British drug makers, opportunists cash-in on Swine Flu hysteria

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London, July 26 (ANI): With top British medical officer pressing the panic button on Swine Flu, pharmaceutical companies, face-mask manufacturers and internet opportunists are cashing in on the mass hysteria surrounding the pandemic.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, had warned last week that the outbreak is confronting the NHS with its "biggest challenge in a generation."

The disease's explosive global advance has sent everyone from private citizens to national governments on a mass shopping spree to try to buy cures.

Swine Flu might not be a funny disease but GlaxoSmithKline, the British drugs company producing most of the country's swine flu vaccine, is laughing all the way to the bank.

As it moved to become the pharmaceutical group with the broadest range of products to tackle the pandemic, last week unveiling plans to sell masks and diagnostic kits to test for the disease as well as vaccines and antiviral medicines, industry analysts estimated GSK could make up to one billion pounds from sales of its swine flu vaccine alone.

It already has orders for 195 million doses, which may cost six pound a dose in the UK, from 16 governments around the world.

"We are trying to strike a balance between society and our shareholders, who want to see a return on the risks we take," GSK's CEO Andrew Witty said.

With up to one in three of the population estimated to be at risk of falling ill - and up to 65,000 of those actually dying - the Government has been left with little choice but to dig deep to try to limit the fallout.

Superdrug has seen sales of its digital thermometers, at 7.82 pounds each, increase tenfold, while Lloyds Chemist said it is seeing a 700 per cent increase in demand for its thermometers and a 70 per cent jump in sales of its two pounds antibacterial hand gel. Manufacturers such as Brannan Thermometers have warned they may run short.

The demand for Tamiflu on the Internet has been so high that it has displaced Viagra as the most spammed drug on the web.

So far, in the UK, there have been 30 deaths related to swine flu. Health officials are working on the basis that the virus could kill somewhere between 0.1 to 0.35 per cent of all the people it infects.

It is this guide, which led chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson to tell the NHS to prepare for up to 65,000 swine flu deaths in a worst-case scenario. (ANI)

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