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Antiviral flu drugs of little benefit for seasonal symptoms

Antiviral flu drugs no good for some
Photo: Antiviral flu drugs no good for some
Antiviral flu medications may work to cut deaths among patients in hospital, but researchers say they may offer little benefit to many flu sufferers.

Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu offer little benefit for many flu patients, a review has concluded.

While most patients do not need the drug, more research is also needed on their use in pandemics, experts said.

The report, from Academy of Medical Sciences and the Wellcome Trust, says antivirals can lead to a reduction in the duration of seasonal flu symptoms by between 14 and 17 hours.

But unless the flu strain is particularly severe or the patient is very ill, the benefits are unlikely to outweigh the risk of side-effects.

"This is a relatively small benefit in a condition that is usually self-limiting and which only rarely leads to serious complications," the report said.
Experts found that antivirals, which include Relenza, do work to cut deaths among patients in hospital, particularly if they are given the drugs within 48 hours of first symptoms.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the new report's steering group, says the failure to conduct research during the last influenza pandemic has contributed to the current weaknesses in the evidence base and the uncertainty facing clinicians.

"Research on the use of antivirals - in hospitalised patients and in high-risk groups in a serious epidemic or pandemic - is a priority.

"It could help health professionals take the best course of action, which could mean fewer hospitalisations and deaths."

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said the implications of the report should not be underestimated.

"..the misinterpretation of the evidence to date has wasted scarce resources and led to widespread confusion."

He says there is a need for more clinical trials to investigate antivirals, including on their benefit for hospital patients suffering flu.

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