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Letter to the editor

Editor, – In an otherwise excellent article ('Influenza immunisation' Aust Prescr 2002;25:5-7) Dr Robert Hall dismisses antiviral drugs as 'conferring little public health benefit'. While this may be true under normal circumstances, it may not be so during an influenza pandemic which could strike with little warning and at any time of the year. The long lead time necessary for large-scale vaccine production against a pandemic influenza virus implies that at least in the initial stages we will have to rely on organisational strategies and antiviral drugs. A pandemic virus of high virulence would constitute a public health emergency with potentially severe consequences including breakdown of social order. Selective antiviral prophylaxis then becomes a very important public health measure. To quote the World Health Organization influenza pandemic preparedness plan1 'it would be appropriate... to maintain a supply [of anti-influenza drugs] adequate for critical needs which might arise, such as protection of health care staff and laboratory workers'.

Peter Lake
Senior Medical Officer
Port Adelaide Community Health Service
Port Adelaide, SA