Hawaii Becomes First State to Order Anti-Viral Flu Drugs

August 9, 2006

Hawaii became the first state in the nation to order anti-viral flu medicine in preparation for any global influenza pandemic when it signed contracts with drug companies last month for Tamiflu and Relenza.

The state needed to move quickly because drug companies have said orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, said Dr. Sara Park, the deputy chief for disease outbreak with the Department of Health.

“Since we’re alone in the middle of the ocean, we wanted to make sure that we have the necessary resources on hand to deal with a pandemic,” said Park.

The state is moving to acquire enough medicine to treat 350,000 residents and visitors in the event of a worldwide flu outbreak — or enough for about one-quarter of the population.

The federal government is donating a little over half that total — 186,000 treatment courses — while the state is buying the rest.

The state’s share of the cost to acquire 164,000 treatments will be about $2.8 million. The federal government is paying for the rest.

Park said the drugs should be delivered early next year.

A normal course of treatment with the drugs involves taking two capsules a day for up to 10 days, she said. The drugs are most effective when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms appearing.

The drug is designed to treat the flu and help curb its spread. It is not the same as a vaccine against a pandemic virus, which is not yet available, state officials said.

In November, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to establish an airport surveillance program for flu viruses in arriving passengers when it set up a monitoring station at Honolulu International Airport.

The Department of Health this year finalized a plan for dealing with a pandemic flu in Hawaii. It continues to consult businesses, schools and others about how to best deal with such a crisis.

In addition to stockpiling the antiviral drug, the plan calls for development of an operations center that would go into action at the first signs of a pandemic-level virus, survey the spread of the disease and isolate and quarantine infected individuals.

Hospitals, civil defense, police and firefighters are among the traditional sources called to the forefront in case of such an emergency. But health officials say effective reaction to pandemic flu would also require planning at all community levels.

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