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Tracking antiviral prescriptions for swine flu [Updated]

November 10, 2009 | 12:09 pm

Pig While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the progress of pandemic H1N1 influenza infections by monitoring deaths and hospitalizations, the Food and Drug Administration monitors its progress by tracking prescriptions for the antivrial drugs that are used to treat severe cases: Tamiflu, Relenza and, to a much lesser extent, rimantidine and amantadine. Such prescriptions give an indication of the number of severe cases of influenza. While the FDA doesn't release the data, the company that compiles it, Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions of Bridgewater, N.J., has agreed to provide some of the data to The Times.

During the week ending Oct. 23, the most recent week for which data is available, 14,673 prescriptions for the drugs were filled in California, an increase of 18.27% from the week before. The vast majority of those prescriptions were for Tamiflu, which is the drug most physicians use to treat severe influenza. The total included 5,403 prescriptions in the Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana region, a 33% increase from the week before; 1,150 in Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, a modest 1.4% increase; and 1,531 in San Diego/Carlsbad/San Marcos, a 38% increase. San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont had a 65% increase to 690 prescriptions, while Modesto had a 105% increase to 39. Bakersfield had an 11% decline to 554 prescriptions, while Yuba City, Merced, Susanville and Stockton all showed modest declines.

Nationwide, prescriptions were up 25%, according to Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions chief executive Mark Spiers. Most notable were a 168% increase in the  New England states and a 120% increase in the mid-Atlantic, which tracks well with data from the CDC. Prescriptions were also up 85% in the upper Midwest. Prescriptions were down nearly 8% in the Mountain West and 21% in the South Central region.

[Updated at 2:57 p.m.: Wolters Kluwer said 75,742,192 prescriptions for the antiviral drugs were filled during the week ending Oct. 23.]

[Updated Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.: The 75,742,192 prescriptions was the total number of all prescriptions filled in the United States during the week ending Oct. 23. The number of prescriptions for the four antivirals filled during the same week was 587,960.  And the company did not supply the FDA data to the Times, but calculated it independently for us.]

-- Thomas H. Maugh II