Tamiflu, the medication given to treat and prevent the influenza virus, has little effect on complications of the flu, such as pneumonia, and is now known to cause psychiatric symptoms, kidney problems, diarrhea and vomiting, according to a new report published this week by the global not-for-profit organization Cochrane Collaboration.
What is even more concerning is that countries including the United States and Europe purchased massive quantities of the drug to stockpile in the event of an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends on its website that Tamiflu be used as a first-line defense against the flu for both the treatment and prevention of the disease.
Roche, manufacturer of the anti-viral drug, even ran ads claiming that Tamiflu can cut hospital admissions by 61 percent and reduce complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis by 67 percent. In at least one press release, the company claimed Tamiflu reduced the number of flu-related deaths.
Five years ago, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and researchers with the Cochrane Collaboration requested Tamiflu data from Roche, but the drug company refused to turn it over without the researchers signing a confidentially agreement. Researchers refused, and even pushed the point by publishing an editorial in BMJ outing the drug company for withholding pertinent information about its drug.
It took nearly five years to get the information needed from Roche to conduct a thorough analysis. But when the data was released last year, it told a decidedly different story than what Tamiflu’s ads reported.
Researchers this week announced the findings from their analysis, and said they found no difference in hospitalizations among patients given Tamiflu and those given a placebo. However, they did find that flu symptoms were shorted by 16-21 hours in those taking Tamiflu compared to those taking a placebo.
As a result, the UK government has asked its drug regulators to review Tamiflu and whether it does more harm than good, and whether government money should be spent on stockpiles of the medication.
Last year, The Atlantic questioned CDC officials over its loyalty to Tamiflu when studies questioned its safety and efficacy. The agency replied that it relies on observational studies that show the anti-viral medication reduces the duration of hospital stays and serious complications.