Tamiflu DOES halt the spread of influenza, major review finds

Tamiflu DOES halt the spread of influenza, major review finds

The controversial drug Tamiflu does halt the spread of influenza a major study has found, justifying the government’s decision to spend £500 million stockpiling the medication.

Research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Michigan found that oseltamivir, which is marketed as Tamiflu, cuts the length of disease by one day and significantly reduces the chances of life-threatening complications.

Tamiflu was stockpiled by the government and given to thousands of people during the 2009 swine flu epidemic. But a study published in the British Medical Journal last year warned there was no evidence that the drug worked any better than paracetamol and accused the government of wasting half a billion pounds. However the most thorough study to date, which includes all available published and unpublished evidence, suggests that the antiviral drug is affective.

The results, published in The Lancet, indicate that oseltamivir significantly reduces the risk of influenza complications requiring antibiotics, such as pneumonia, and hospitalisations in adults infected with influenza.

"The safety and effectiveness of oseltamivir has been hotly debated, with some researchers claiming there is little evidence that oseltamivir works,” said lead author Professor Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan.

"Our meta-analysis provides compelling evidence that oseltamivir therapy reduces by one day the typical length of illness in adults infected with influenza and also prevents complications and reduces the number of people needing hospital treatment.”

The study found that, on average, a course of Tamiflu reduced the length of a bout of flu from 123 hours to 98 hours. It also reduced respiratory infections by 44 per cent and hospitalisations by more than 60 per cent.

The Government began stockpiling Tamiflu in 2006 over fears about bird flu after it was approved by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence. It is not widely prescribed for regular flu.

The new analysis includes individual patient data from all published and unpublished trials, made available by manufacture Roche, for the first time.

Prof Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection, Imperial College London, said: “The important thing about this study is that it shows that Roche were not hiding skeletons in its cupboards. As a full review of the published and unpublished data, it leaves the conclusion unaltered that oseltamivir reduces symptom duration by about a day while causing nausea and vomiting in a minority of recipients.

“Oseltamivir is not a perfect drug but does what you might expect of an antiviral given relatively late in the course of an acute infection and after the illness has already become established.”

However the drug does lead to a "significantly increased risk" of nausea (3.7 per cent) and vomiting (4.7 per cent) compared to a placebo.

Some experts said they were still concerned about the side effects of Tamiflu. Eight children who took the drug in Japan ended up committing suicide after suffering psychotic episodes. Other side effects included kidney problems, nausea, vomiting and headaches.

Prof Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said: “This is a good and careful study, adding significantly to what we know scientifically about Tamiflu.

“But there are still open questions, particularly on exactly how and when it should be used.

“Tamiflu increases the risk of nausea and vomiting. A study like this can’t on its own say whether it is worthwhile to trade off the reduction in the length of symptoms against the risk of nausea and vomiting.”

By Sarah Knapton,

The Telegraph, Friday 30 January 2015

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