With the Northern Hemisphere anticipating a new wave of H1N1 flu as kids go back to school, public health and industry types are gearing up for an onslaught. They're casting about for containment and treatment strategies. And having had a few months to gather real-world data on the virus, the studies are starting to pour in.
Today's spate of research questions the overall utility of antiviral treatment, particularly for children. A new study published in British Medical Journal found that there's no evidence that Tamiflu or Relenza really prevent complications in kids 12 and under. Coming on the heels of news that Tamiflu has caused some ugly side effects in kids--vomiting, nightmares, and so on--this data calls into question the current strategy of antivirals-for-all.
"The strategy of giving out this treatment in a mild infection is inappropriate," Oxford researcher Dr. Carl Heneghan told reporters (as quoted by Reuters). The researchers advise that kids shouldn't be routinely treated with antivirals because they might do more harm than good. Roche, however, said that the side effects were already well known, and that its own data shows that the drug prevents infection and cuts the duration and severity of the illness.
Another study puts the antivirals in second place to vaccines as a way to control H1N1 flu. U.K. researchers reviewed seasonal flu data and concluded that the cheapest and perhaps most effective way to handle the flu pandemic would be expanding vaccination to all working-age adults from the current policy of kids and at-risk adults. More vaccination would equal less need for Tamiflu or Relenza, which could prevent overuse of the drugs and in turn keep drug resistance at bay, they posit.
Sounds like a couple of dings against the antivirals that have been such a boon to Roche and GlaxoSmithKline of late. But given the widespread nature of the pandemic, we expect that the drugmakers will have plenty of Tamiflu and Relenza sales to report, even if this research translates into real-world action.
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