Tamiflu is a medication that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of influenza virus which causes seasonal flu. It is approved for adults and children age one year and older. To date, it is the most frequently prescribed flu medication. The manufacturer believes that the first step in treating and preventing the flu is the use of Tamiflu which must be taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms. Tamiflu is available in capsule form and fruit flavored liquid form for dosages in younger children. It can be taken with or without food and is usually taken twice daily for five days. At this time the medication has also been approved for flu prevention. (1,2)
In 2009, the British Medical Journal reported that the medication may not be as safe in the treatment of children as was previously thought. They recommended that the use of the medication be reserved for those who are in a high risk group where the virus would not typically cause severe symptoms. (3,4)
However, as much as it may be enticing to use medication to decrease the effects of the influenza virus or to prevent the contraction of the flu, there have been some significant side effects from the medication reported in the literature which begs the answer to the question of risk versus benefit.
Tamiflu should not be used in place of getting a yearly flu shot and should not be used if you have had the flu vaccine nasally within the past two weeks. Individuals who suffer from kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease, any condition causing swelling or any disorder of the brain or any other serious disease or health problem should also not use Tamiflu. This medication is recognized as pregnancy category C., which means that it is unknown whether or not it is harmful to an unborn baby. (5)
In January 2010 the news media reported that a 19-year-old woman became blind after taking the medication, and reportedly did not have the flu. She was advised to take the medication by the National Health Services in Great Britain and within 72 hours was in the hospital on life support. She suffered from Stevens Johnson syndrome and toxic epidural necrolysis. Doctors have told her it could take up to two years for her to recover and they aren’t sure that her eyesight will return. (6)
Patients who take the medication also report side effects such as hallucinations, hot flashes, dry mouth, nausea, stomach pain, dizziness, fast heartbeat, loss of memory, delirium, strange dreams, night sweats, lack of appetite, cold sweats, shaking, buzzing in the body, anxiety, numbness and tingling in the hands, arms and feet and an extreme lack of energy. In fact, some individuals report that the side effects from the medication are worse than the disease is supposed to treat.
The manufacturer reports that the medication is only supposed to help an individual decrease the amount of time they are suffering symptoms by 24 hours. In these cases, it may be better to wait out the flu virus symptoms, providing the individual with good care, than it would be to take the medication and potentially experience side effects which are worse than the illness itself.
Tamiflu is also expensive and not always covered by insurance companies. In August 2009 the news reported that the number of side effects being reported after the use of this medication had more than doubled, seemingly overnight. Most of the side effects included heart and psychiatric disorders. These particular figures were published only days after a study was released which showed that more than half of the children who took the medication also suffered from nausea, nightmares and other reactions. (7)
Physicians in Great Britain have also learned that Tamiflu may put a significant number of individuals at greater risk for a stroke when on the medication. It apparently is a combination of an interaction with warfarin, a blood thinning medication, which is taken by more than 600,000 people in Great Britain.
While there may be good reason to give the medication to individuals who have underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk for developing serious complications from the flu, it appears that those same individuals are also at greater risk for developing serious side effects from the medication which would be used to treat the flu.
(1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention: 2011-2012 Influenza Antiviral Medications
(2) PubMed Health: Oseltamivir
(3) British Medical Journal Group Blog: Helen Macdonald on Side Effects, Tamiflu and the Swine Flu Hotline
(4) The Guardian: Don’t Give Tamiflu or Relenza to Under-12s, Warns Researchers
(5) Drugs.com: Tamiflu
[2:23:50 PM] Gail Morris: http://www.drugs.com/tamiflu.html
(6) Health Freedom Alliance: Girl, 19, Lft Battling Blindness After Taking Tamiflu
(7) NHS Choices: Tamiflu Side Effects in Children
[2:30:41 PM] Gail Morris: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2009/07July/Pages/Tamiflusideeffects.aspx