Tamiflu dubbed ineffective
ANTI-FLU drug Tamiflu is no more effective than paracetamol, claims a study conducted by an international team of scientists.
A review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a global not-for-profit organisation of 14,000 academics, has found that the drug has little or no impact on the spread of flu or the complications that follow. It also does little to alleviate flu symptoms.
Tamiflu has been stockpiled in Singapore as an important defence in the event of a flu pandemic. In 2010, it was reported that the health ministry had enough of the drug to treat 1.39 million adults and 300,000 children.
Medical experts told My Paper that even though the findings have made them rethink the effectiveness of the drug, there are precious few alternatives when it comes to treating such infections.
Dr Adrian Ong, a senior consultant at ID Consult, a specialist clinic for infectious disease, said there would still be a need to resort to Tamiflu in critical cases.
He said: "Until there are better therapeutic options, we will still have to rely on this class of drug for pandemic threats and serious influenza infections.
"I think there needs to be more scrutiny of the research data and larger studies before we can totally discount Tamiflu."
The review also found that while Tamiflu will take a few hours off the duration of one's flu symptoms, it has significant side effects - which include nausea, headaches, psychiatric events and kidney problems.
The Guardian reported that if a million people took Tamiflu in a pandemic, 45,000 would experience vomiting, 31,000 would have headaches and 11,000 would suffer psychiatric side effects.
However, Dr Clarence Yeo, a general practitioner at Killiney Family & Wellness Clinic, said the pros and cons have to be weighed in prescribing Tamiflu.
"The benefits might outweigh the side effects for someone with underlying respiratory conditions who is at higher risk of complications," he said.
He also noted that in his own experience with Tamiflu, there were patients whose symptoms abated quite quickly after they had taken the drug.
Dr Ong said he is "less inclined to prescribe Tamiflu for milder uncomplicated infections".
Some doctors said they have "never been quite convinced" by the benefits of Tamiflu, such as Dr Ajith Damodaran, a general practitioner at Serangoon Garden Clinic & Dispensary.
He explained that most patients visit his clinic after having had flu-like symptoms for 24 hours, which are likely to go away in another 24 hours. Thus, prescribing the drug "would not make a big difference" since it is meant to be used at the onset of the symptoms to alleviate them.
"Honestly, I would not use it, even on myself," said Dr Ajith.