Anti-Flu drug given during swine flu pandemic to be reviewed

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A major review done on Tamiflu has suggested that the drug does more harm than good. This has prompted the health regulator, NICE, to initiate their own review of the product.

The drug was provided to thousands of people during the swine flu pandemic. It has since been discovered that it could cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, kidney and psychiatric problems, and only achieves a 16-hour shortening of the illness.

During January, the government was asked not to spend any more funds on the drug until its effectiveness was proven. However, the Department of Health has admitted that it has committed to an additional £50 million to maintain its stockpile.

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Clinical Health and Excellence (NICE) stated that they do regular reviews on their guidance and the Tamiflu guidance will be reviewed as regards the prevention and treatment of flu. This will be done bearing in mind the updated review done by the Cochrane Collaboration, which will form part of the NICE review. This will allow NICE to make the decision as to whether they should update their guidance on the drug.

A review of the clinical trials of the drug found evidence that it does not prevent admission to hospital or stop the spread of the illness.

According to statistics, it was found that eight children in Japan who took the drug committed suicide after they suffered psychotic incidences. The drug has stopped some individuals from producing an adequate number of antibodies required to fight infection.

The Swiss drug company, Roche, claimed that their trials had indicated the drug would reduce the number of hospital admissions, as well as complications, such as sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. Based on these results, the Department of Health made the decision to purchase about 40 million doses of the drug at an overall cost of £424 million. Tamiflu was prescribed to about 240,000 people.

The Cochrane Collaboration claims that Roche provided false impressions of the drug’s effectiveness. The said that these claims were based on unfinished and ‘sloppy science.’

The stockpiling of this drug proved controversial during last year. It was found that 6.5 million doses of the drug, worth about £74 million was to be destroyed because inefficient record maintenance indicated that no checks had been done to determine if it was being stored at the recommended temperature.

There are health experts who believe it would be very dangerous to discard the only defence they currently have against a pandemic.

The Chair in Influenza Virology at Imperial College London, Professor Wendy Barclay stated that there would be a public outcry if there was a pandemic tomorrow and the government had no medication to offer thousands of infected people. She stated that the drug reduced the time it took for adults to feel better by about a day and healthy children experienced the same time period.

One day may not appear to be very long, but when one considers that the illness lasts six days, it is.

Roche has refuted the claims made in the report.

Image credit: Tony Hisgett

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