New Tamiflu Study Cites Benefits But Are They Worth It
Results of a new study of the antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) says adults can expect to get symptom relief faster and have a reduced risk of respiratory infections than if they took a placebo. However, several factors should be considered before individuals decide if it is worth taking Tamiflu.
The Tamiflu meta-analysis involved data from nine randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that included 4,328 patients. In each study, Tamiflu (75 mg twice daily) was compared with placebo.
Analysis of the data showed that
- On average, people who took Tamiflu had symptoms for 98 hours compared with 123 hours for those who took placebo. This is a reduction of slightly more than one day (25.2 hours, for a 21% reduction)
- Risk of developing a lower respiratory tract infection requiring treatment with antibiotics was reduced by 44 percent: infections occurred over 48 hours after Tamiflu treatment in 4.9 percent of participants compared with 8.7 percent in the placebo group
- Use of Tamiflu resulted in hospitalization for 0.6 percent compared with 1.7 percent among those given placebo (a 63% reduction)
- Incidence of side effects included significantly increased risks of nausea and vomiting (3.7 and 4.7%, respectively) when compared with placebo
Tamiflu risks and questions
Previous studies, including a 2140 Cochrane Systemic Review, have questioned the efficacy of Tamiflu in reducing the risk of pneumonia and noted that users of the antiviral had an increased chance of experiencing side effects such as psychiatric problems, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The maker of Tamiflu (Genentech) has warned that the antiviral may place users (especially children and adolescents) at increased risk of abnormal behavior, confusion, or seizure early during their illness.
The results of this new also meta-analysis beg the question: how does Tamiflu compare with standard treatment for flu, such as over-the-counter meds to fight fever and aches, drinking lots of fluids, and rest? Perhaps a more useful evaluation of any Tamiflu benefits should include a comparison between this antiviral and traditional, nonprescription methods in the general population.
It also should be remembered that Tamiflu has the potential to be helpful only if taken within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms. This often requires individuals who are ill to go to a doctor or urgent care facility to get examined and given the prescription. For many folks, could this time and energy be better spent at home, using traditional treatment methods?
Is Tamiflu for you and your loved ones? This new meta-analysis points out an estimated 24-hour advantage to getting the drug, plus a few other benefits. However, there are side effects and other factors to consider before making the choice to take the medication.
In fact, an accompanying editorial to the study (“Influenza: the rational use of oseltamivir”) noted that “Whether the magnitude of these benefits outweigh the harms of nausea and vomiting needs careful consideration,” and that “confirmation of the diagnosis of influenza before treatment is advisable.” Then there is the issue of whether favorable reports on Tamiflu could help relieve the stockpiles of the drug in the United States and United Kingdom.
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