Treating suspected cases of swine flu with tamiflu in patients who are otherwise healthy provides no real benefit, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham.
In research published on bmj.com, Professor Nick Freemantle and Melanie Calvert found that oseltamivir, or tamiflu, the drug used to treat the H1N1 stain of the flu virus, does not necessarily prevent complications of the virus in otherwise healthy patients. It may, they conclude, have a very modest effect on reducing symptoms, but that benefit is small and the side effects and safety of the drug should be considered.
The team examined the results of observational studies, studies conducted in real world health care settings and data from the pharmaceutical company Roche who manufacture the drug. They found that the effects of using tamiflu to teat influenza in otherwise healthy adults were clinically unimportant.
Professor Freemantle said: “The studies focussed on those patients that had no underlying health conditions and who were otherwise healthy and who had received early treatment of antivirals. Our analysis suggests that you have to treat between 100 and 1000 patients in optimum conditions to prevent one person from developing pneumonia.”
The threat of a widespread global pandemic of the H1N1 strain of influenza began in April 2009. Since then the British government has stockpiled supplies of oseltamivir in preparation for a further significant outbreak of the virus this winter, and patients displaying symptoms have been prescribed the drug since the initial outbreak.
However, Professor Freemantle says: “There is very little evidence to support the widespread use of oseltamivir in the otherwise healthy population who are developing signs of influenza like illness. We have remarkably few resources in this country to spend on pharmaceuticals on health and it’s surprising to see such widespread use of oseltamivir.”
“However the government has gone out and bought a lot of doses of the drug and I suppose the situation is like that of gun control in the US. If you’ve got a gun in the house it’s much easier to use it. But it does not mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Professor Freemantle and Calvert’s review is published in the BMJ.