January 19, 2020

What Nobody Ever Tells You About Tamiflu

When you’re down with the flu—experiencing strong fever, chills, aches and vomiting—you’ll take almost anything your doctor sends your way. There’s a medicine called Tamiflu that can shorten the amount of time you’re sick? Yes, please. Before you jump headfirst into taking Tamiflu, though, you might want to look a bit closer first. Not many people know about the drug’s side effects, but they can be rather severe.

When a family in Texas recently gave their 6-year-old Tamiflu, they didn’t expect what would happen next. According to ABC News, the flu-stricken girl started developing hallucinations and other psychotic effects. She ran away from school and even attempted jumping out her bedroom window. Thankfully, her mother caught her just in time.

Later, the family was surprised to find out that psychosis and nervous system problems were rare side effects that Tamiflu can cause. Was taking the medicine worth reducing their 6-year-old’s flu symptoms? According to the family, it wasn’t.

The girl’s parents have filed a letter to the US Food and Drug Administration and are warning others to get to know the drug’s side effects too. While these side effects aren’t common, they do happen, and they could eventually cost someone’s life.

Should You Take Tamiflu?

The debate about Tamiflu has been long-standing. Many of the first clinical studies that proved Tamiflu’s flu-fighting abilities were conducted by a pharmaceutical company called Roche.

As you might imagine, Roche has everything to gain by keeping this “necessary” drug on the market. While that fact in itself suggests some bias, a review published in 2015 also points out several flaws in Roche’s initial testing.

First, according to the review’s authors, one study conducted in 2000 suggested several benefits that were not proven by the research. For example, Roche authors suggested that Tamiflu may cut down on hospitalization rates and reduce complications for high-risk groups.

At the same time, other studies did not report any adverse effects of the drug and may have lacked quality evidence due to bias and other factors. Unfortunately, the research opposing Tamiflu wasn’t much better.

For years, the Cochrane Collaboration performed their own analysis of Neuraminidase inhibitors like Tamiflu. However, they based their analysis on 10 randomized controlled trials, 8 of which were not published in peer-reviewed journals.

Read More: Is it a Cold or the Flu?

A Deeper Look

Finally, in 2014, Cochrane dug a little deeper and published a more detailed review on the matter. Interestingly, researchers stated that they couldn’t find any randomized controlled trials that were not directly funded by manufacturers.

Again, that fact should have immediately raised some questions about biased research at the beginning. Instead, major organizations like the World Health Organization just went along with it. Of the 107 studies that the Cochrane researchers did analyze, they found that most studies had a high possibility of bias and selective reporting.

In addition, 11 of the studies did not present the placebo in an identical fashion to the active drug, causing the potential for performance bias. Next, Cochrane researchers found that Tamiflu treatment did not reduce serious flu complications in adults or children, including bronchitis and sinusitis.

It did, however, have an effect on the number of unverified, self-reported cases of pneumonia. On the flip side, several trials which conducted a more detailed diagnosis did not show a significant effect. They also found no significant effects on the rate of hospitalization, contradicting the Roche researchers’ earlier conclusion.

At best, the results of this review showed that Tamiflu may lessen non-specific symptoms in adults by 17 hours, trimming the number of sick days from 7 to 6.3. But without the promise of less severe complications, this effect seems minimal and almost negligible. It’s clear that Tamiflu needs more quality, unbiased research in order to confirm its efficiency and prove its helpfulness.

Read More: 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Tamiflu Side Effects

As with any drug, you also have to worry about some side effects with Tamiflu. One of the more common side effects you’ll need to watch for is, ironically, nausea and vomiting.

Since you may have already been dealing with these symptoms because of the flu, you’ll need to watch if they persist or worsen. If so, notify your doctor immediately.

A few other side effects to keep in mind are:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema/skin irritation

Rarely:

  • Mental confusion
  • Behavior changes (such as self-injury)
  • Rash
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing

Finally, if you do choose to take Tamiflu, you should always take it in accordance with your doctor’s recommendations. Most doctors prescribe the drug to be taken twice per day for up to 5 days. Also, understand that research suggests you should take Tamiflu as soon as flu symptoms arrive, up to 72 hours after.

If you take the medicine after that period, you may not receive the full benefit of reduced sickness. In some cases of lessened immunity, your doctor may still recommend Tamiflu even after this time period.

Ultimately, you will have to make the decision about whether Tamiflu is right for you and your family. If you follow experts’ advice and get your flu shot, it’s likely that your symptoms will be less severe anyway. Either way, make sure you understand the research first and weigh Tamiflu’s benefits versus its risks.  

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