As this year’s season gets underway, Floridians, like Americans around the country, are being bombarded with ads from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche claiming their drug, Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), can stop seasonal flu.
However, according to the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) the company has never provided evidence to support such a claim, despite a request made in 2009 when the World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic.
At that time, Roche claimed Tamiflu reduced the number of patients infected with the H1N1 virus who required hospitalization. Although Roche failed to produce all their clinical trial data, as the disease spread globally, many governments including the US. and Great Britain spent billions of dollars stockpiling Tamiflu.
During the outbreak in Britain, physicians reported a number of side effects associated with Tamiflu including nausea,hallucinations, and delirium, especially in children.
As early as 2007, after investigating the deaths of 18 Japanese children, doctors there were warned not to prescribe Tamiflu to teenagers for fear it could lead to bizarre and self-destructive behavior.
The other problem was reported development of resistance to Tamiflu by doctors in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, North Carolina and Denmark.
Now, a two-year review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit group of researchers who analyze medical evidence using results from the world’s best medical research studies has questioned Tamiflu’s effectiveness in preventing pneumonia as well as its safety.
The investigation found no clear evidence that Tamiflu prevents complications like pneumonia in healthy people. Their report also raised serious concerns the use of ghost writers in drug trials and the drug approval process.
Last month, BMJ editor in chief Dr. Fiona Godlee sent a letter to Roche board member, John Bell, reminding him that the company has still not delivered the full clinical study reports. The letter was published on the BMJ website alongside correspondence from the Cochrane team to Roche, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO.
Dr Godlee’s letter follows recent reports that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has initiated infringement proceedings against Roche to investigate deficiencies in safety reporting, including follow-up of approximately 80,000 reports of possible adverse drug reactions.
British healthcare professionals are demanding that all drug companies give them access to clinical trial data for all their drugs in current use.
In the meantime, what should Floridians and other Americans do when they get the seasonal flu, an acute respiratory illness caused by infection with influenza A and B viruses?
In otherwise healthy individuals, the majority of symptoms of uncomplicated influenza usually resolve within one week without antiviral treatment. These include abrupt onset of fever, chills, nonproductive (dry) cough, muscle and/or body aches, headache, runny nose, sore throat and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
Local doctors queried for this post acknowledged that the benefit of taking Tamiflu is minimal and then only when taken within the 48 hours of the first symptoms. On the other hand, there is the potential for serious side effects.
Bottom line: Everyone agreed that until all the evidence is in, the best advice was to get a flu shot in hopes of preventing the flu altogether.
For further information: about local flu activity