From Spam Daily News
Spammers are exploiting and capitalizing on fears brought on by the
possibility of an avian flu pandemic. The emails try and direct you to
online pharmacy sites selling Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), the
antiviral prescription drug that is most effective at protecting
people against the H5N1 strain of bird flu, but many of these are
purely scams to try and get credit card details and other personal
As public interest and media coverage of bird flu increases, so does
consumer demand for Tamiflu.
Across the country, people appear to be building home stockpiles of
the prescription antiviral medicine, according to reports by
drugstores, pharmaceutical benefit managers and physicians.
Tamiflu is not a cure for the flu, but it can lessen symptoms if taken
shortly after they first appear. A five-day course of two pills a day
costs $80 to $90.
Tamiflu, taken as one capsule (75mg) daily for 6-8 weeks, may be 80-90
percent effective in preventing avian influenza, the US Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) said.
The run on Tamiflu was apparently spurred by government warnings, here
and abroad, that chances for a worldwide flu epidemic are rising, and
by news that Southeast Asia's H5N1 bird flu -- the leading candidate
for a pandemic -- is moving westward.
For more than a year, demand for the drug, known generically as
oseltamivir, has been rising as more than 40 countries began to lay in
millions of doses for national stockpiles.
Reports have suggested Tamiflu is already in short supply and spammers
are taking advantage of this by mass mailing the product.
Spam urging recipients to protect themselves from bird flu by
purchasing Tamiflu online has skyrocketed. Spammers are registering
hundreds of new Web domain names for the purpose of sending bird flu
"Spammers play on the irrational fears of readers. The feeling that
buying something will protect you from death often takes precedence
over a healthy level of scepticism that should be induced by the fact
that it's spam," says Spamhaus, a leader in anti-spam work.
Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that produces Tamiflu, is
aware of the Tamiflu spam campaigns, and is warning consumers not to
"panic-buy" their products.
The company has warned consumers against purchasing Tamiflu online,
saying that it has evidence some of the medication sold on the
Internet is fake.
Roche is the only maker of Tamiflu, which takes more than six months
to synthesize in a complicated and dangerous manufacturing process.
Last December, federal customs agents have seized more than four dozen
shipments of counterfeit Tamiflu pills at a U.S. post office in South
"The packages were in containers that stated they were generic
Tamiflu, but there is no generic Tamiflu, so that's a pretty big tip
off," said Roxanne Hercules, spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and
Border Protection, explaining that the local seizures were the first
in the nation of a counterfeit form of the drug.
"It's all economics," said Hercules. "People are going to try to make
money off whatever they can. We try to anticipate what could be coming
down the road."
The counterfeit pills found at the post office in South San Francisco
were shipped from China and had been bought over the Internet.
"The product had none of the active ingredients of Tamiflu," Dave
Elder, director of the FDA's Office of Enforcement told the Associated
"People are jeopardizing their health and possibly even their life by
purchasing prescription drugs such as Tamiflu through websites that
advertise using spam," said Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data. "The
risk of receiving counterfeit, spoiled, or even toxic medication is
extremely high. Tamiflu, along with all other prescription drugs,
should only be prescribed by licensed physicians and purchased from
trusted and reputable sources."
A number of countries have reported cases of avian influenza, commonly
referred to as "bird flu" in their domestic and wild bird
populations. The H5N1 strain of influenza causes severe disease in
Human infections with the H5N1 strains are extremely rare -- but
frequently fatal. Since late 2003, 118 people have contracted the
disease and 61 have died.
Most of these cases have occurred from direct or close contact with
infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, a few rare cases
of human-to-human spread of H5N1 virus have occurred, though
transmission has not continued beyond one person.
Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change,
scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to
infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Because
these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no
immune protection against them in the human population and an
influenza pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could
begin. Experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation
in Asia and Europe very closely and are preparing for the possibility
that the virus may begin to spread more easily from person to person.
A specific vaccine for humans that is effective in preventing avian
influenza is not yet readily available.
Mathematical models published by two research teams concluded that
spread of a contagious new strain of influenza virus could be slowed
or even stopped by widespread use of Tamiflu at the outbreak
site. Other experts, however, think that even with unlimited
quantities of the drug, this is unrealistic.