tamiflu, flu drugs, flu drugs children, tamiful children side effects
Clive Gee/AP
A new study found that more than half of children taking Tamiflu suffer side effects such as
nausea, insomnia and nightmares.

Study Shows Anti-Flu Drugs Are Problematic for Kids, Undermining Global Swine Flu Strategies

August 11, 2009 05:30 PM
by Jill Marcellus
As nations stockpile antiviral medications in preparation for the swine flu pandemic, a study warns that the drug’s benefits may not outweigh the negative side effects for children.

Flu Drugs: Keep Out of Reach of Children?

Last week, a review of existing research found that two of the top anti-flu drugs, Relenza and Tamiflu, were “equally effective” in preventing common flu symptoms for adults. That Stanford University School of Medicine report, however, did not review data for children, a major gap in antiviral research filled this week by University of Oxford researchers in a study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). In a blow to worldwide swine flu preparations, the Oxford team found that antiviral drugs provide few benefits, but several risks, for children under 12 years old, the BBC reported.

Analyzing four clinical trials that concerned seasonal flu treatment for 1,766 children, researchers determined that antiviral drugs would not help children with aggravated asthma or ear infections. Although the drugs reduced seasonal flu recovery time by up to a day and a half, another recent study found that more than half of children treated with Tamiflu developed side effects including nausea and nightmares. Experts also warned that overuse of antivirals could increase resistance to the drug in the second swine flu outbreak expected this fall. 

Dr. Matthew Thompson, an author of the BMJ study, characterized antiviral benefits for children with mild flu as “fairly small” in light of these concerns, stating that, “With every medication it’s a balance between the potential benefits and the potential harm,” according to The Independent. In his assessment, children should avoid taking Tamiflu except in extreme cases.

In addition, the researchers reviewed three studies on antiviral medication’s ability to slow a virus’ spread, finding that the drug only lowered transmission by 8 percent.

Background: British strategies against swine flu outbreak

The Oxford study has put the British Department of Health on the defensive, with researchers criticizing the government’s wide distribution of antiviral drugs in its efforts to combat swine flu. Dr. Thompson instead recommended a “targeted approach” to drug prescription, but the Department of Health has refused to change its policy, according to The Independent.

Britain launched their National Pandemic Flu Service last month, featuring a hotline for potential swine flu sufferers. Callers who appear to have swine flu, as determined by the hotline’s symptom checklist, are issued an antiviral drug prescription without any doctor consultation. According to the BBC on Aug. 10, there were 30,000 new swine flu cases in England over the last week, which, though still worrisome, represents a substantial improvement over the 110,000 cases of the week before. With the decreasing number of new cases, Britain has shifted focus from containing swine flu to to treating swine flu, largely abandoning the practice of prescribing Tamiflu to the contacts of people with swine flu, rather than the patients alone. 

Children have been hardest hit in the British swine flu outbreak. Despite the study and its own admission that “there is doubt about how swine flu affects children,” the Department of Health remains committed to its “safety-first approach of offering antivirals to everyone,” according to The Independent. A spokesman noted, however, that the department will “keep this policy under review” as new information emerges.

Related Topic: Swine flu study raises historical parallels

University of Wisconsin researchers released a study last month emphasizing the severity of swine flu compared to seasonal flu, revealing that swine flu affects the whole respiratory system and not just the nose and throat. Researchers also determined that survivors of the 1918 influenza are apparently immune to swine flu. Parallels between the two viruses, including the youth of their victims and their odd persistence in summer, had already been drawn.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines