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"Rumsfeld to Avoid Bird-Flu Drug Issues
" The New York
Times (28 October 2005) Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has recused himself from government
decisions concerning medications to prevent or treat avian flu, rather than sell his stock holdings in the company that patented the antiviral agent Tamiflu, according to a Pentagon memorandum issued Thursday. The memorandum, to Mr. Rumsfeld's staff from the ...
The forwarded text making these claims was paraphrased from an editorial that appeared in the April 2006 issue of the Spanish health
magazine Discovery Dsalud.
There are factual errors however, some of which can be found in the original, some of which may be due to mistranslation, and some of which probably crept into the text during transmission
* CLAIM: Bird flu was discovered in Vietnam
nine years ago.
NOT EXACTLY. Avian flu strain H5N1 was first isolated in human beings nine years ago — in Hong Kong
, not Vietnam. The first reported cases in Vietnam occurred in 2003.
* CLAIM: Barely 100 people have died in the whole world in all that time.
TRUE. As of this writing, the official human death toll from bird flu since 2003 is 115. Counting the six who died in Hong Kong
in 1997, the nine-year total is 121.
* CLAIM: "...it was the Americans who alerted us to the efficacy of the human antiviral Tamiflu as a preventative."
PROBABLY TRUE. The Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced as early as 2004 that the antiviral drug oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu), already proven successful in the prevention and treatment of the common flu, was likely to prove similarly effective against the avian influenza virus.
* CLAIM: Tamiflu barely alleviates some symptoms of the common flu.
MISLEADING. Antiviral medications like Tamiflu attack the flu virus itself, not specific symptoms. Even so, Tamiflu has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the severity of common flu symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness by an average of 37 percent, and reduce the number of complications in otherwise healthy individuals.
* CLAIM: Tamiflu's efficacy against the common flu is questioned by a great part of the scientific community.
FALSE. A search of the available medical
literature on Tamiflu yielded no evidence of significant controversy regarding its efficacy against the common flu.
* CLAIM: "...against a SUPPOSED mutant virus such as H5N1, Tamiflu barely alleviates the illness."
UNSUBSTANTIATED. While the efficacy of Tamiflu against H5N1, the most pathogenic strain of bird flu, has yet to be assessed in clinical trials, its effectiveness has been sufficiently verified in animal and in vitro studies to earn the recommendation of the World Health Organization for the treatment and prevention of H5N1.
* CLAIM: To date, avian flu affects birds only.
FALSE. Not to mention self-contradictory and nonsensical. As confirmed above, over 100 human beings worldwide have died of avian flu in the past three years. Clearly it doesn't affect birds only.
* CLAIM: "Do you know who markets Tamiflu? ROCHE LABORATORIES."
TRUE. Roche is a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Switzerland.
* CLAIM: "Do you know who bought the patent for Tamiflu from ROCHE LABORATORIES in 1996? GILEAD SCIENCES INC."
GARBLED. Gilead Sciences, Inc. discovered Tamiflu in the early 1990s and still holds the patent. Gilead licensed development and marketing
rights to Roche in 1996.
* CLAIM: "Do you know who was the then president of GILEAD SCIENCES INC. and remains a major shareholder? DONALD RUMSFELD, the present Secretary of Defence of the USA."
TRUE. According to Fortune magazine, Rumsfeld was Gilead's chairman from 1997 to 2001. It's unknown exactly how many shares he still owns in the company, but the value of his holdings is estimated at between $5 million and $25 million.
* CLAIM: the "base" of Tamiflu is crushed aniseed.
TRUE. One of the basic ingredients of Tamiflu is shikimic acid, the main source of which is currently star anise, a spice grown in China
. However, there are other methods of making shikimic acid, and Roche is already looking at ways to reduce its dependence on the star anise supply.
* CLAIM: "Do you know who controls 90% of the world's production of this tree? ROCHE."
FALSE. According to a November 2005 report in the Washington
Post, only about half of China's entire stock of star anise goes to pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Roche.
* CLAIM: Sales of Tamiflu were over $254 million in 2004 and more than $1 billion in 2005?
ROUGHLY ACCURATE. According to Forbes magazine, Tamiflu sales totalled $258 million in 2004 and were projected to exceed $1 billion in 2005.