The US government pledged to expedite production of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu as its maker negotiates with other companies to boost production. The drug is in high demand as countries prepare for a possible bird-flu outbreak.
If Swiss manufacturer Roche Holding AG does license other companies to begin producing Tamiflu, the Food and Drug Administration would have to approve those factories' versions. The FDA has set up a "rapid response team" to ease roadblocks to Tamiflu manufacturing and speed evaluation of any other anti-influenza products needed if a pandemic ever begins.
Monday's announcement came even as federal health officials sought to direct Americans' attention away from bird flu and toward an immediate threat - the regular winter flu that every year claims 36,000 lives in the United States.
Tamiflu is one of four drugs that can treat regular flu if taken soon after symptoms begin. It is in short supply because it is also being stockpiled as one of just two drugs effective against bird flu. Still, don't hoard: There is enough Tamiflu, and other medications, to treat regular flu this winter, Gerberding said.
The FDA is beefing up efforts to detect counterfeit Tamiflu, if criminals attempt to cash in on the heavy demand, and urged people filling Tamiflu prescriptions over the Internet to use only legitimate pharmacies.