Primary care clinicians treating severely unwell patients with suspected influenza this winter are being urged not to be deterred from prescribing anti-flu drugs, despite doubts over their efficacy.
Public Health England (PHE) has updated its guidance supporting the use of antivirals for the treatment and prevention of flu. It insists that the drugs can reduce the risk of death in patients hospitalised with the virus.
“PHE continues to support the early use of antivirals for patients with seasonal influenza who are in high-risk groups or who are considerably unwell”
A systematic review published in April suggested there is ”no good evidence” that oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is used to prevent and treat influenza, reduces flu-related hospital admissions or the complications of influenza.
The researchers, from The Cochrane Collaboration, also claimed that taking the drug could increase a person’s risk of nausea and vomiting.
But Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said today: “The severe impact that flu can have on the health of people at risk in our communities and on our health services is unquestionable.
“Whilst we know that antivirals are not a ‘magic bullet’ to prevent or treat flu in otherwise healthy individuals, the evidence is clear – that they can reduce the risk of death in patients hospitalised with flu or in those at greater risk from the complications of the virus,” he said.
“A recent study of patients hospitalised with flu showed that among adults, treatment with antivirals was associated with a 25% reduction in the likelihood of death compared with no antiviral treatment,” stated Professor Cosford.
“Early treatment within 48 hours of onset of symptoms halved the risk of death compared with no antiviral treatment,” he said. “This supports the view that the benefit of this treatment is greatest when started within two days of onset of illness.”
He added: “PHE continues to support the early use of antivirals for patients with proven or suspected seasonal influenza who are in high-risk groups or who are considerably unwell, even if they are not in a high-risk group.”