Parents: Read This Before Reaching for the Tamiflu
Nausea, vomiting, headache and pain are all symptoms of the flu—and they’re also potential side effects of Tamiflu, one of the only medications on the market to treat the virus. But since we’re experiencing one of the worst flu seasons in recent history—and Tamiflu is a go-to treatment option among physicians—plenty of people are still opting to the medication themselves and/or to administer it to their sick children. Which is why experts are now making it a point to warn people that the drug may not be right for everyone, especially healthy children.
USA Today notes that, for the last decade, reports have surfaced that some recipients—particularly children and young adults—have experienced “neuropsychiatric side effects” like poor concentration, inability to think clearly, confusion and other out of character behaviors. There was a 6-year-old girl in Texas who reportedly tried to jump out of a window after taking the medication. Another family claimed their 8-year-old son threatened suicide. And several others have said their children hallucinated while on the drug.
The label on the medication also clearly states that “patients with influenza, including those receiving Tamiful, particularly pediatric patients, may be at an increased risk of confusion or abnormal behavior early in their illness.” And advises that those who take it should be monitored “for signs of abnormal behavior.”
USA Today reached out to Genentech, the company that sells Tamiflu, for comment. Bob Purcell, the director of corporate relations, reiterated via email that the most common side effects of the drug are nausea, vomiting, headache and pain. He also pointed out that while “neuropsychiatric events” have been reported by people who took Tamiflu when they had the flu, similar events have also been observed in patients who have the flu and have not taken Tamiflu.
“We take all such reports very seriously and undertake thorough investigations,” the email is reported to have said. “Data is provided to regulatory authorities for their independent review and to date there is no data suggesting a link with antiviral treatment.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu can make flu symptoms milder and shorten the duration of the illness and work best if started within two days of getting sick. And both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) still recommend antiviral drugs to treat confirmed and suspected cases of the flu. Additionally, several experts who spoke to USA Today agreed that Tamiflu can be useful when taken with caution.
“It’s used because it’s an effective medicine against influenza,” Christopher Belcher, director of infection control at St. Vincent in Indiana, told the publication. “It is a valuable medicine in treating the flu in people at high risk. But you always need to take into consideration the side effects.”
Amy Peak, a professor of pharmacy practice at Butler University, agreed. She pointed out that, although sufficient data now exists to suggest the neuropsychiatric effects can occur with Tamiflu—such as a 2017 Japanese study that found 0.5 percent of those who took Tamiflu preventatively after being exposed to the flu had a neuropsychiatric reaction—that specific reaction is most likely to happen in males under 20. But for most people, “There is sufficient data that the benefits are likely to be more pronounced,” she told reporters for the paper. “I don’t want the message to be ‘Don’t ever take Tamiflu.’”
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