WHO says that otherwise healthy people should not be given Tamiflu

Healthy people who catch swine flu should not be given antiviral drugs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, as most people will recover from symptoms within a week.

The drugs are currently offered to anyone in England with flu like symptoms but the WHO’s guidance contradicts this policy, suggesting that the side effects may outweigh the benefits for otherwise healthy people.

But Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir) should still be used as “soon as possible” if people present with severe illness or whose condition was deteriorating, the UN’s health agency said.

Those in at-risk groups — such as pregnant women or people with an underlying medical condition such as diabetes — should also receive treatment promptly.

The latest WHO advice, from a panel of international experts, comes as new figures show that 45,986 courses of antivirals were given to patients in England last week.

In the previous week, 90,363 had been given out after people contacted the National Pandemic Flu Service, the telephone and internet service which allows people to obtain medication without seeing a doctor.

There have been fears that mass use of Tamiflu will encourage the H1N1 swine flu strain to become resistant to the antiviral.

Researchers have also expressed concern over the side-effects of the drug, including sickness, nightmares and insomnia in children.

A team from the University of Oxford said earlier this month that children with mild symptoms should not be given the antiviral to combat swine flu and urged the Department of Health to urgently rethink its policy.

The advice, published on the WHO website, said that most patients were experiencing typical flu symptoms and would get better within a week.

A statement said that the new guidelines “represent the consensus reached by an international panel of experts who reviewed all available studies on the safety and effectiveness of these drugs.

“Emphasis was placed on the use of oseltamivir and zanamivir to prevent severe illness and deaths, reduce the need for hospitalisation, and reduce the duration of hospital stays.

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