Tamiflu IS effective against the flu, study finds

tamifluIt caused a widespread debate back in 2009 when the government spent £500million stockpiling it, but new research has emerged that backs up the efficacy of flu treatment Tamiflu.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) hit headlines six years ago when it became one of the primary weapons to try and stem the H1N1 swine flu epidemic that had the country in a state of panic for a shortwhile, and the Labour government subsequently spent around £500 million on Roche’s antiviral drug in 2009-10 during the outbreak.

However, many questioned the government’s decision to spend so much money to stockpile the drug, and some have even questioned whether Tamiflu is actually an effective flu treatment option.  One study published in the British Medical Journal last year claimed there has been no evidence to suggest Tamiflu was any better than paracetamol and criticised the government for ‘wasting’ half a billion pounds.

But now, the most thorough study to date into the antiviral drug – comprising of all available published and unpublished evidence – shows that the controversial treatment is indeed effective.

The findings have been published in The Lancet, demonstrating how oseltamivir significantly decreases the risk of influenza complications leading to the need for antibiotics, such as pneumonia, and hospitalisation for adults suffering with more severe influenza.

“The safety and effectiveness of oseltamivir has been hotly debated, with some researchers claiming there is little evidence that oseltamivir works,” commented 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 authors assessed nine randomized placebo-controlled double-blind trials. The trials examined the effects of the licensed 75 mg twice a day dose of Tamiflu, taken by 4,328 adults that had seasonal influenza between the years of 1997 and 2001.

In their analysis, the authors state that on average, Tamiflu worked at reducing the duration of flu symptoms in patients from 123 hours to 98 hours – a reduction of 21% – compared with placebo.

In addition, Tamiflu was also found to decrease the risk of lower respiratory tract infections requiring antibiotics over 48 hours after being assigned the drug or placebo. The study authors say the risk was reduced by 44%, with 4.9% of those taking Tamiflu becoming infected compared with 8.7% taking a placebo.

Tamiflu could also be credited with a reduction in flu-related hospital admissions, with a total of 0.6% of patients with influenza requiring hospital treatment following being given Tamiflu, compared with 1.7% of the patients given placebo – a reduction of 63%.

Professor Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection, Imperial College London, gave his verdict on the analysis, saying: “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.”

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