Is Flu Medicine Worth It?

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

As anyone who’s suffered through it can tell you, getting the flu — the real influenza flu, not just some fly-by-night bug — is miserable. If you’ve got a compromised immune system, it can even be deadly. That’s one reason individuals (and governments!) have invested in anti-flu medicines like Tamiflu and Relenza. But there’s just one catch: According to recent research by a University of Maryland doctor, these anti-flu treatments don’t really work.Peter Doshi, assistant professor of pharmaceutical health services at UMD’s School of Pharmacy co-authored this review of other studies, which found that anti-flu drugs might be more trouble than they’re worth. There was insufficient evidence to support Tamiflu’s claim that it reduces hospital admissions or limits severe symptoms. While Tamiflu proved to be effective at shortening the disease’s duration by a half-day, it also increased patients’ risk of nausea and vomiting by a small amount. When the drug was taken for an extended period of time, patients were at greater risk of headaches, renal problems, and the ominous “psychiatric disturbances.”

“I’m not interested in health scares,” Doshi says. “What we’ve found here are statistically significant increases. Do I know absolutely for certain, without a shadow of a doubt, that Tamiflu is responsible for these (negative effects), based on the trial methodology? No. But what I’m seeing here are clear reasons to be concerned and to look into it further.”

This isn’t just a question of whether any particular individual chooses to take anti-flu medication; it also touches on national health care issues. The United States has spent over $1 billion on anti-virals like Tamiflu– you know, in case some terrible strain of influenza happens to strike again. Despite Doshi’s research, the Centers for Disease Control remain firm: “We carefully review all available data including randomized controlled trials and observational studies when making recommendations,” they wrote in a release. “There is a substantial and growing number of observational studies that show the clinical benefit of antiviral treatment of seasonal and pandemic influenza.”

 



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