Veracity, an anti-viral, and the pandemic


Even before swine flu became THE news loop of the week, here in Australia as we slip into autumn, the annual flu shot campaign had begun.

According to local news reports, at least one flu treatment drug – Tamiflu™ – is in demand, as consumers prepare for porcine-but-now-person-borne viral attack.

So in the quest for veracity admidst panic, I present to you, my current findings about this anti-viral. notes that “Tamiflu™ speeds recovery from the flu” and that “there is no evidence for efficacy of Tamiflu™ in any illness caused by agents other than influenza viruses Types A and B”.

But swine flu isn’t Influenza Type A or B. Is it?

The site states that

Most problems noted during tests of Tamiflu were indistinguishable from the symptoms of flu… Side effects may include: abdominal pain, asthma, bronchitis, cough, diarrhea, ear infection, fatigue, headache, insomnia, nausea, nosebleed, vertigo, vomiting.

Elsewhere, in the information for professionals, we learn that

Adverse events that occurred with an incidence of ≥1% in 1440 patients taking placebo or Tamiflu 75 mg twice daily in adult phase III treatment studies are shown in Table 3. This summary includes 945 healthy young adults and 495 “at risk” patients (elderly patients and patients with chronic cardiac or respiratory disease). Those events reported numerically more frequently in patients taking Tamiflu compared with placebo were nausea, vomiting, bronchitis, insomnia, and vertigo.

Roche – the manufactuer of the drug, understates it a little at Tamiflu™, emphasising the potential for nausea and vomiting. Oh well, at least they alert us to the risk of severe rash and allergic reaction.

Read carefully, and you’ll see that Roche notes that use of this product reduces the duration of influenza, and that it is possible to succumb to flu, if the strain which infects us, is not the same as the one for which we may [or may not] have been immunised.

Roche makes no statement about treatment with Tamiflu™ reducing the risk of serious flu-related conditions or death. Nor does it make any claim that Tamiflu use may reduce incidence or intensity of flu-related signs and symptoms.

You will also read that

People with the flu, particularly children and adolescents, may be at an increased risk of self injury and confusion shortly after taking Tamiflu and should be closely monitored for signs of unusal behavior. A healthcare professional should be contacted immediately if the patient taking Tamiflu shows any signs of unusual behavior.

Self-injury AND confusion AND the flu?

If you take the time to read as much as you can about this drug, what becomes clear is that using it will reduce the course of an influenza infection by 1.3 – 1.5 days.

It may also cause side-effects which are just as unpleasant as the flu itself.

So I’m inviting comments from those who know about these things.

Why is a drug used against Influenza A and B being suggested as a treatment for swine flu, a virus thought to be a new combination of swine, avian and human influenza?

Have anti-virals such as Tamiflu™ been used effectively in people who have swine flu? How are clinicians and researchers defining ‘effective’?

Of the people who have – sadly- died of swine flu, what caused their demise? Was it serious dehydration and electrolyte imbalance caused by vomiting and diarrhoea? Pneumonia? Something else?

In the midst of the mask-selling, food stock-piling and general media beat-ups, why is there so very little commonsense advice about how best to care for ourselves in the event we become unwell?

At a guess I’d say there are by now, more words devoted to conspiracy theories about swine flu, than basic preventative health measures, or advice on how to respond if one suspects infection.

Being safe: this post is for general information and discussion. If you are unwell, or caring for someone else who is ill, please seek prompt medical attention. This discussion is in no way to be considered health advice, or advice about influenza,  swine flu, anti-viral treatments, or immunisation. The writer neither advocates nor dismisses use of the product Tamiflu™; only your doctor can safely advise you about this drug, and any other pharmaceutical agents.

Go safey, go wisely, and be well.

Margi Macdonald


The image is The Prodigal Son among the Swine by Albrecht Durer 1497-98.  Sourced at Web Gallery of Art

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