The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare

February 18th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evening standard, express, independent, mail, mirror, MMR, scare stories, telegraph, times | 55 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 18, 2006
The Guardian

The interesting thing about the Tamiflu vaccine for bird flu that everybody keeps going on about, is this: it’s not a vaccine. The manufacturers even spell that out in their factsheet. It’s a drug, an antibiotic for viruses.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read Paul Routledge in the Mirror, Alan Hall in the Daily Mail, Sally Guyoncourt in the Express, the London Evening Standard, Simon Byrne in the Sunday People, and my own “yikes” favourite, Gavin Maguire, head of the “National Office for Emergency Planning” in Ireland, all of whom would tell you otherwise. I could go on.

I shall. “Babies Refused Bird Flu Vaccine: Doctors face life-or-death decisions”, screams the Daily Mail, in a story on a scare that hasn’t happened yet, for a vaccine that doesn’t exist. Any more? Looking at you, Terence Blacker and Sean O’Grady in the Independent. Christopher Hope at the Telegraph? Big smile now! But best of all: Lynne McTaggart.

She’s the character behind an organisation called What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or WDDTY, a successful book, pressure group, and publishing operation for a magazine called “Proof!”. They are a popular resource in certain sections of the media – and are quoted by name – because they love alternative therapies, they act all sciencey, and they are viciously, viciously anti-vaccine. But McTaggart doesn’t just make the Tamiflu vaccine mistake in passing, and move on. No. This isn’t just the misuse of a word: she builds an empire of hatred and distrust upon it.

She tells us of the evils of the measles vaccine (“which caused untold paralysis, damage and death”), and then she tells us how, because vaccines are only able to make your body recognise the appearance of certain strains, and the bird flu virus will change with time, so the drug will become useless: “Why flu drugs don’t work: all flu viruses change antigenically to evade recognition by the host’s immune system.” But Tamiflu, as you know, is not a vaccine.

The fun goes on for pages and pages because there is, rather joyfully, a whole bird flu special report, which you can download for free from their website: “Read the full facts about avian flu that the government and medical establishment don’t want you to know.”

And what are the full facts? In a radical move, even for the vaccine fear-mongering community, this time she has people dying from a vaccine that doesn’t actually exist: “Indeed, the flu shots are worse than useless. Japan has already reported that eight people have died – not from the virus, but from the avian flu jab itself.” Lordy. Good luck jabbing a Tamiflu capsule into your arm. Even better is where they call a virus with a 50% kill rate a pussycat: “At its worst, the avian flu has killed fewer than half the number of poultry workers who have been infected…however, if it truly is as lethal as we have been warned, it surely should have eventually killed everyone it infects.”

And what do they learn from this? “This suggests that a healthy body, and a properly functioning immune system, can withstand any viral attack.” They go on to suggest you might want to try vitamins A, C, and E, homeopathy, and the herbal remedies echinacea, Hydrastis canadensis, Andrographis paniculata, and Phytolacca americana.

Seriously. It goes on for pages and pages, rehashing the Tamiflu information leaflet’s safety data, in the most scaremongerish tones they can muster, quoting scientific journal articles – with the full citation, journal title, page number, year, issue number, all in the main body of the text – all to make themselves look as authoritative as is humanly possible, all while cursing and mocking the medical profession. And all the while they are blissfully, beautifully, wonderfully ignorant of the fact they have got the most important thing, at the heart of the matter, completely and utterly, pathetically, stupidly, obviously wrong. This isn’t bad science. It’s performance art.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk


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55 Responses



  1. interbreeding said,

    February 18, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Er . . . no, it’s bad science – if it were performance art it would, by the sounds of it, be very sharp, but it’s surely just dangerous nonsense entirely devoid of artistic merit.

  2. amoebic vodka said,

    February 18, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    We thought one of the reasons that this strain of bird flu (or avian bird flu as it has been called by various bits of the media) was so lethal is because the immune system ‘overreacts’ to the infection and this causes the breathing difficulties. Can someone who actually knows about it confirm this?

    Anyway, if we’re right then “a healthy body, and a properly functioning immune system” presumably would increase the chance an infection would be fatal.

  3. FhnuZoag said,

    February 18, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    The irony is that the google ads for this page are now displaying ads for ‘bird flu masks’ and ‘suits’… Whatever those are.

  4. Pathman said,

    February 18, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Oh, Lord, please give them bird flu! and , then let them prove their theories….
    I’ll enjoy coming to their funerals, as long as they don’t try to decieve John Q Public.

    I can tell you, that i’m relieved to be living in Sweden just now.
    The nutters don’t swarm as heavy here yet, as they seem to in Old Blighty.
    And, the Press seems nearly sane too about it. People here know what Tamiflu is and does…

    I’m going to get a flu jab this week though, because That is a really good idea if you don’t want to enjoy two or three weeks in bed this time.
    Last time I was maxed out on painkillers for fourteen days because of a Blinding headache. And my shop nearly went bankrupt too.

  5. stever said,

    February 18, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    *frantically presses the googel ad links multiple times*

    – costs them dosh and earns it for ben

  6. Terry Hamblin said,

    February 18, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Why is everybody against vaccines? Even Edward Jenner was strongly opposed by the London cognescenti. In Leicester there was a strong anti-smallpox vaccine movement well into the 1930s.

    Seriously, it is everybody’s duty to protect themselves against infectious disease by vacination, because some immunodeficient members of the community can’t react to vaccines and their only hope of protection is herd immunity

  7. stever said,

    February 18, 2006 at 7:49 pm

  8. pv said,

    February 18, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    Did you know, H5N1is only part of the virus’ name. Its other name is “Deadly”. The BBC keep telling me this. Every single time they mention it on the news, the po faced presenter or news reader refers to it as “the Deadly H5N1 virus”. EVERY TIME. Day after day after day after day after…. What’s wrong with these people? What’s deadly is the news reporting. The BBC web site is just as bad.

    Just my guess but regarding science and all the professional quacks and quack journalists, I don’t think they are anti-science at all. I’m coming round to the idea that in fact they are rather pro-science really. Why else would they try to dress up their ramblings and rants in pseudo-scientific twaddle. They know science is important but they are frustrated by their complete inability to understand it. The scientific process is just far too complicated for their overworked grey matter, but they don’t want their clients or readers to know that. I mean, how else are they going to earn an honest crust? That’s why they make it up. And that’s why these people are always railing against scientists, Doctors and anyone else connected with the “establishment”.

  9. pv said,

    February 18, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    “Antibiotics may well be needed for such complications, but the additional use of certain nutrients and botanicals can help resolve the disease process more rapidly and reduce reoccurrence of infection.”
    So it says in the Google ad: pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/iclk?sa=l&ai=Blk2XUKP3Q9P-J46y-QHVoIyCB6PmvgjRm4uLAsCNtwHAixEQAxgFIKvjsgMoBUDMEkiGOVDlnbI_oAGv1cP-A7IBEnd3dy5iYWRzY2llbmNlLm5ldLoBCjE2MHg2MDBfYXPIAQHaASBodHRwOi8vd3d3LmJhZHNjaWVuY2UubmV0Lz9wPTIxNuABApUCGEo-Cg&num=5&adurl=https://prbpharmaceuticals.com/product.php%3Fpid%3D7&client=ca-pub-4290726190206255&nh=1&jca=5559
    Protect against bird flu

    I particularly like the coy reference to “certain nutrients”. It sound better if read in the voice of the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine. And can somebody please tell me, what are “botanicals”?

  10. avenger said,

    February 18, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    “At its worst, the avian flu has killed fewer than half the number of poultry workers who have been infected…however, if it truly is as lethal as we have been warned, it surely should have eventually killed everyone it infects.”

    Words fail. Health advice from someone who can write this?

    Does someone have a link to a nice table of fatality rates for various epidemics — flu outbreaks etc?

  11. raygirvan said,

    February 19, 2006 at 1:33 am

    Ah, Lynne McTaggart. I sense a disturbance in The Field.

  12. Kimpatsu said,

    February 19, 2006 at 4:33 am

    Here in Japan, doctors regularly prescribe antibiotics for viruses, which is worse than useless owing to the increased anitbiotic resistance among bacteria that it causes, but they carry on merrily repscribing for two reasons:
    1. It’s what the ignorant patients want (they confuse viruses and bacteria, and think that antibiotics cure viral infections), so prescribing antibiotics shuts up the patient and gets them out ofthe GP’s surgery fast, and
    2. Every time a GP prescribes a branded antibiotic, he gets a backhander from the pharmaceutical company in question.
    My local GP is currently overflowing with patients who have colds and are demanding antibiotics, thinking it will protect them from bird flu. And nary a peep in the public service announcements the government sticks on television here. I guess avian flu isn’t such a high priority…

  13. Kess said,

    February 19, 2006 at 9:50 am

    > Ah, Lynne McTaggart. I sense a disturbance in The Field.

    Blimey! A golden opportunity to meet many leading experts in quantum physics (cough). Anyone going?

  14. FH said,

    February 19, 2006 at 10:48 am

    There’s bad science on both sides of this of course. And lots and lots of snake oil salesmen. Here’s a leading appliance manufacturer maintaining that pickled cabbage will protect us all: times.hankooki.com/lpage/biz/200601/kt2006011218045911910.htm

  15. Shedders said,

    February 19, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Damn! They have a user forum but posts have to be cleared by a moderator first. What do you think are the chances of my post pointing out this article being cleared?

  16. raygirvan said,

    February 19, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    pickled cabbage will protect us all

    Ah, Leuconostoc citreum. It all springs from this research – www.snu.ac.kr:6060/sc_sne_b/news/1184639_3497.html – claiming to have found that the bacterium that ferments pickled cabbage is active against avian flu. I dare say the Sauerkraut Marketing Board see it as a golden opportunity.

  17. guthrie said,

    February 19, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Nice rant.
    I would suggest you put quotes around the word vaccine, i.e. “vaccine”, which would make it more clear that the word is being used incorrectly.

  18. Mark Hadfield said,

    February 20, 2006 at 12:36 am

    Re 9:

    I don’t know exactly what “botanicals” are, but I do know that there’s a lot of them in London Sapphire gin. (It says so on the bottle.) Doubtless they are responsible for the blue colour.

  19. Guy J Forrester said,

    February 20, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Re Volume 16 No. 9 of the WDDTY News Letter

    WDDTY seem very confident to tell us that modern medicine appears not to be what it really is (evidence based science – coupled with years of experience
    by dedicated health practitioners). However they do have a very interesting little section in their news letter:-

    LIABILITY STATEMENT
    While every care is taken in preparing
    this material, the publishers
    cannot accept any responsibility for any
    damage or harm caused by
    any treatment, advice or information
    contained in this publication. You
    should consult a qualified practitioner
    before undertaking any treatment.

  20. raygirvan said,

    February 20, 2006 at 1:53 am

    London Sapphire gin. (It says so on the bottle.) Doubtless they are responsible for the blue colour

    I confess I’m a bit of an aficionado of gin. It’s called Bombay Sapphire and, boringly, only the bottle glass is blue. Apart from the main juniper berry flavour, the ‘botanicals’ in gin are various herbs and spices (stuff like “coriander seed, angelica, orris root, lemon, cassia bark, cardamom, fennel, anise, caraway, orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon” – see www.kingcocktail.com/TimesApr2003.htm).

  21. Refreshingly Distinctive » Blog Archive » The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare said,

    February 20, 2006 at 1:54 am

    […] badscience » The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare […]

  22. Bezerra said,

    February 20, 2006 at 2:25 am

    Ben,
    About this 50% death rate you must read John Paulos at abcnews.go.com/Technology/WhosCounting/story?id=1432589

  23. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 20, 2006 at 2:26 am

    hey, i’m not saying the death rate is almost half, they are, i’m with you on the dodgy counting.

  24. pv said,

    February 20, 2006 at 9:18 am

    Gin. Now that sounds as if it might cure just about anything if taken in large enough quantities – especially now that I know it contains “botanicals”!

  25. MostlySunny said,

    February 20, 2006 at 9:40 am

    Gin and Tonic was the Colonial cure-all for a reason you know!

  26. Delster said,

    February 20, 2006 at 10:04 am

    To be honest i think that if botanicals are the answer then we all need to start ingesting large quantaties of certain shampoos as they seem to contain them in large amounts…… not sure about the taste though…

  27. Hanne said,

    February 20, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Delster, would it be an orgasmic experience?

  28. Delster said,

    February 20, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    i suppose that would depend on what brand you used :-)

  29. BSM said,

    February 20, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Amoebic Vodka

    “We thought one of the reasons that this strain of bird flu (or avian bird flu as it has been called by various bits of the media) was so lethal is because the immune system ‘overreacts’ to the infection and this causes the breathing difficulties. Can someone who actually knows about it confirm this?”

    I can answer the question, but haven’t got references, so please apply an appropriate pinch of salt.

    The deaths arise from what is called a “cytokine storm” generated by the innate immune system. This is different from the antibody and cell-mediated responses of the acquired immune system taht are directed at the specific pathogen.

    I think the idea is that if you have specifc immunity, from vaccination or prior exposure, Ab’s and CMI step in and attack the invader, but if they are absent then you only have the non-specific mechanisms of the innate system and with a virulent invader they can run away to become a major part of the clinical problem. The innate system is meant to buy you time and set the scene for an acquired response, but with a virulent disease you can end up dead first.

  30. Matthew said,

    February 20, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    For years I’ve been using gin and tonics to protect myself from Malaria, who knew I had a head start on the deadly bird flu.

  31. Daniel Beck said,

    February 20, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    I just signed up for the WDDTY site. It screams of commercial opportunism.
    -They want your postal address for unknown reasons.
    -Almost every click takes you to a page where your only option is to click ‘submit’ to receive monthly newsletter. I found no way of unsubscribing on the site.
    -The other clicks take you to pages flogging you endless hidden truths.

    After finding my local ‘Rolfing Practitioner’, I thought I’d add my details to the practitioner database. Unfortunately this appears to entail a £32 purchase. Luckily, the site inform me that this will ‘be one of the shrewdest investments you’ll make’. What! – ever? Better than pensions and mortgages? My cheque is in the post.

  32. Ben said,

    February 20, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Re: the Field


    These discoveries, at the further reaches of quantum physics, provide scientific validation and evidence for a range of psychic and spiritual experiences that rational science had claimed were impossible.

    Note the “rational science” – perhaps this is only bad science in the rational sense. Also, “scientific validation” and “evidence” are clearly separate – their form of scientific validation need not, it appears, be evidence-based.

    Judging their science by the standards of your particular rational, evidence-based form seems a bit harsh.

  33. pv said,

    February 20, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Ben, Feynman was a quantum physicist wasn’t he. That’s what he won his share of a Nobel prize for. Here’s a link to some lectures he gave in New Zealand which I think demonstrate (to me at least) why these morons talking about “the further reaches of quantum physics” probably have no idea what quantum physics is never mind anything else about it.
    www.vega.org.uk/video/subseries/8
    If you haven’t seen the lectures before I’m sure you will enjoy them. They serve as a reminder that there is intelligent life on the planet and that there are a few exraordinary individuals who are really deserving of the label “genius”.

  34. Peter said,

    February 20, 2006 at 11:39 pm

    “Rational” science… as in 1. Having or exercising the ability to reason. 2. Of sound mind; sane.

    So their science being irrational has an inability to reason and is not of sound mind.

    Er.. yes.

    I suprised at their honesty.

  35. Paul said,

    February 21, 2006 at 3:35 am

    Re: Media crappiness over bird flu coverage

    Hi.

    As a television news hack on the “bird flu beat” (love the way that rolls off the tongue) I can assure you that any attempt I make to tone down my headlines is swiftly obliterated by editors insisting that “deadly” be added as a prefix to any occurence of H5N1. Although, to be honest, it *is* a deadly virus — just probably not as deadly as Sky et al would like you to believe.

    PS — There’s a biotech firm in Russia that says that “alpha-inteferon” applied nasally is an effective prophylactic against contracting all types of influenza. Is this total bollocks? My immunology isn’t up to scratch…

  36. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 9:22 am

    Paul, lots of things are deadly but they don’t have the word “Deadly” incorporated into their names – arsenic, paracetamol, chlorine bleach, alcohol, driving on public roads. Obviously, according to your editors, the public isn’t as intelligent as them and no-one is aware yet that bird flu can be deadly; particularly to birds. Don’t you think the press. tv et al are being a tad patronising when they do this? Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the idea to hype it up so that people are overly worried or panic? Then there’s more stuff to report on, like public opinion and comments informed by the idiotic press, complaints about the availability of the non-vaccine “vaccine”, the dangers of eating chicken, how it’s all the fault of the government and all that crap. Isn’t that what is meant by news management? Increased circulation and more cash for the press. That’s the way it’s always worked.
    Incidentally, how many people have died on Britains roads since 1st January? And how many as a result of accidents in the home? And how many have died worldwide (that’s “globally” in modernspeak) from Deadly Lethal H5N1 Strain of Avian Bird Flu since the start of the outbreak?
    This is Britain’s heroic news media, informing and protecting Britain’s plucky news readers, viewers and listeners. Scuse me while I puke.
    And I know journalists who complain that they (collectively) have a reputation for dishonesty and untrustworthiness. I really can’t think why.

  37. MikeTheGoat said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Probably also worth considering the thosuands that die each year in this country from plain old, boring, normal human flu.

  38. Paul said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Sure, I agree… but arsenic, paracetamol, chlorine et al, are not novel threats; nor are they the result of an infectious disease that’s causing billions of dollars worth of real economic damage.

    I don’t want to be an apologist for the “evil media”, but when you take this, combined with non-governmental agencies that don’t depend on circulation for funding — including the WHO, for chrissakes — making public statements to the effect that up to 150 million could die if H5N1 acquires human-to-human transmissibility, surely there’s some merit in reporting this?

    Not to gloat or anything, but as one of the (I imagine) few science hacks who at least skims the discussion sections of relevant journal articles when I put together a package, I’m not too uncomfortable with using the phrase “deadly bird flu”.

    But then: these are the same editors who’ve told me in the past: “Make it scary. People like that.” So I’m torn. I hafta say, I do genuinely think there’s a bit of a parasitic relationship between the consumers of mass media and a good, terryfing story. People get off on it. Blaming the journalists as being “untrustworthy (although loads of them are)” seems like a bit of a cop-out.

  39. James H said,

    February 21, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Paul – re the Russians and interferon. It was a reasonably common practice in USSR days to ‘prime’ the immune system to fend off influenza and other viruses by taking either interferon, or a compound called Poludan (which was actually polydA-dU oligonucleotides) which was said to upregulate natural interferon production. Certainly in theory high levels of interferon would help prevent viral infections, and shorten the course of viral infections, but this idea never really caught on in the West.

    Another Soviet treatment, for bacterial infections this time, called phage therapy was also common, and reportedly effective, but again has failed to catch on in the West. The more cynical commentators suggest that this is because neither of these ideas are patentable, so pharmaceutical companies won’t bother investing and producing them. It is perhaps more likely that the benefits haven’t stood up to more intense scrutiny, although I don’t know of any clinical trials since the fall of the USSR.

    On a different note, everyone seems to be convinced that it is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ H5N1 mutates and becomes transmissible between humans. This is not a certainty – indeed, far from it. One good example of a virus becoming *less* deadly is HIV1, which appears to be a lot less virulent in attacking tissues other than t-helpers (i.e. skin and brain) than it used to be back in the 80s, although of course drug therapies are also better.

  40. MikeTheGoat said,

    February 21, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    See www.phicotherapeutics.co.uk/index.html for a biotech company that are using phage-therapy techniques (although not quite as the russians used them). We had a lecture from their MD at Uni who said that one of the problems with phage therapy is fitting it into a regulatory framework designed for small-molecule therapeutics. Essentially one of the benefits is that new phage can be ‘evolved’ to target resistant bugs but that this is (or was 3 years ago) seen as changing the process and so invalidating manufacturing licences etc. Don’t know if anything from Phico has gone through clinical trials or if they’re any use but thought I’d point out that some people are still trying this.
    I think the russians also had a topical cream containing phages for skin infections.

    Anyway, that was somewhat off the flu topic. So I guess I should remind everyone that we are clearly all about to die of deadly avian bird flu so should probably be having fun while we still can.

  41. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    “Make it scary. People like that.”

    Paul, newspaper proprieters like it much better. But I liken the situation to an information vaccuum which too many editors for my liking are happy to fill with any old tosh to generate sales. And sales is the name of the game, not public information. It’s a well established formula and applied whatever the subject of the news happens to be.
    If the “deadly” adjective is used on occasion no-one could reasonably object. But it’s the incessant drip, drip, drip of repetition with the result that so much news reporting lacks any perspective and, frequently, any relation at all to real life. It takes on a life of its own, wrapped up in its own perverted form of reality.
    Apparently it’s illegal to incite people to riot. But it’s not illegal to incite panic and hysteria.
    It’s patronising, a disservice to the public and thoroughly indefensible.

  42. Robert Carnegie said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    The paradox of a vaccine is that it is unlikely to be safe to a mathematically perfect degree – after all you could catch something else nasty from another patient in the doctor’s waiting-room – and vaccination is only useful if you actually are subsequently exposed to whatever the vaccine is for. So it may be best for me if everyone except me is vaccinated. But then a vaccine doesn’t necessarily make everyone fully immune; “herd immunity” (population) is expressed as a percentage.

    Tamiflu is not a vaccine, but if it is given as a credible prophylactic then the distinction is subtle. But -is- it a credible prophylactic?

    And of course disease organisms can work around natural or artificial prophylaxis, by evolving. Watch out for the next new AIDS virus that makes rubber perish…

  43. potsy700 said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    Paul – I respect what you say, but it’s well known that the news media is driven by sales, and human nature menas that someone will by a paper with the headline “Deadly Virus Is On the Way” rather than “Bird Flu: No Threat”.

    Could you not pitch something to your editor along the lines of a ‘layman’s guide to bird flu – what are the risks’? and compile some genuine facts presented in an easy to understand fashion, and market it as such? Get hold of your local hospital’s microbiologist and flatter him into giving an interview or writing an article.

    Just a few bullet points would do:

    Bird Flu has not mutated into the form most threatening to humans,
    There is currently no vaccine, and one cannot be created until such time as the hypothetical mutation occurs,
    Tamiflu is a treatment, not a vaccine. It does work against viruses, but like all medicines its effectiveness will vary with individual circumstances,
    Surgical facemasks are ineffective
    It’s not Tony Blair’s fault
    You can’t go blaming the french, either.

    Or am I just hopelessly nieve??

    rich

  44. Scott Peterson said,

    February 23, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    Interesting article.

    Unfortunately your web site has type sizes so small that I can’t read them. On a 1024×768 screen this is showing up as about 6 point type.

    To read this I had to cut and paste the article into notepad.

    Your web site is no good you can’t read it. Please think about using standard font sizes.

  45. MikeTheGoat said,

    February 24, 2006 at 8:57 am

    You could always set the text-size in your browser to something other than “Smallest”. I know it’s rare to find a website that actually obeys some of the layout standards and changes with text-size settings but we should be praising those that do, not criticising them.

  46. Death Japan Tamiflu » BBC NEWS | Health | Suicides raise fears over Tamiflu said,

    March 2, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    […] badscience The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare Doctors face life-or-death decisions , screams the Daily Mail Japan has already reported that eight people have died – not from It goes on for pages and pages, rehashing the Tamiflu information […]

  47. Dr Dan said,

    March 20, 2006 at 11:06 am

    The basic facts about influenza virus are that the bird form and mammalian form are rather different in that the avian form is a gut disease, and the mammalian one a respiratory virus. When bird flu infects humans and mutates to become readily transmissible from human to human (and that’s the important bit; it isn’t readily transmissible at the moment), you have a virus that isn’t normal flu but is infectious.

    According to what I’ve read, the 1918 flu and this one infect deeper in the lungs than normal flu does, and provoke a cytokine burst which is the non-specific immune system trying to cope with a problem.

    The cytokine burst is the bit that does the main damage; this causes massive inflammation and leakage into the lungs, which drowns the victim. Limit the cytokine burst and you give the patient a chance to either recover, or die of something other than drowning.

    Anti-immune drugs such as are used for transplant patients are probably the most use here, although antihistamines might be slightly helpful. Tamiflu merely inhibits the virus getting out of an infected cell; it cuts the multiplication rate but that is all, it doesn’t kill virus.

    Best way to cope with human-transmissible bird flu: try not to get it, until doctors have had a chance to experiment on early victims and work out how to stop the cytokine burst and any other associated problems. If you do get it, take either Tamiflu or Relenza, antihistamines and try to get to a hospital if these aren’t swamped.

    Oh, and stay away from quacks and homeopaths.

  48. Eddy said,

    March 20, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    … everyone seems to be convinced that it is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ H5N1 mutates and becomes transmissible between humans. This is not a certainty – indeed, far from it. One good example of a virus becoming *less* deadly is HIV1, which appears to be a lot less virulent in attacking tissues other than t-helpers (i.e. skin and brain) than it used to be back in the 80s, although of course drug therapies are also better.

    Furthermore, there’s a perfectly good evolutionary reason for HIV1 to become less deadly. Killing the ecosystem you live in (in the case of a disease: the host species) is bad for you (a lesson we could do well to learn) – the selection pressure on any disease is to become better at transmission but less deadly.

    The reason for the wide-spread expectation – `when’ not `if’ – that bird ‘flu shall necessarily hop to humans is that ‘flu is well-known to mutate rapidly. It does that precisely in response to selection pressure to get round its host’s immune defences. If avian ‘flu does hop across to humans, we can expect it to mutate rapidly in ways that make it better at infecting humans: but mutations that enable it to attack humans are not, yet, being selected for.

    A preview button, alongside the “Submit Comment” one, would be nice … I’m having to guess what mark-up I can get away with !

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  50. Antibiotics for Viruses said,

    August 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    […] The Great Tamiflu Vaccine Scare – Bad Science – The interesting thing about the Tamiflu vaccine for bird flu that everybody keeps going on about, is this: it’s not a vaccine. The manufacturers even spell that out in their factsheet. It’s a drug, an antibiotic for viruses. … […]

  51. When does ‘Skepticism’ become dogma? said,

    September 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    […] Ben Goldacre on Lynne McTaggart […]

  52. JonathonCowley said,

    November 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I’m no microbiologist, but I’m pretty sure that viruses mutate like all instances of evolution through natural selection – at random – and not as a conscious attempt to evade detection.

  53. JonathonCowley said,

    November 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “The irony is that the google ads for this page are now displaying ads for ‘bird flu masks’ and ‘suits’… Whatever those are.”

    Something like this perhaps?
    1.bp.blogspot.com/-6AIUPvf8M0U/TrBv0Z1Nz3I/AAAAAAAACKY/t5Cerf0SIiA/s320/IMG_1658.JPG

  54. Polio in WDDTY - WWDDTYDTY said,

    December 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    […] is, to quote Ben Goldacre, “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine“, even to the point of inventing deaths from a non-existent vaccine, so it’s no […]

  55. John Consemulder | HoaxWiki said,

    June 27, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    […] ↑ www.badscience.net/2006/02/the-great-tamiflu-vaccine-scare/ […]