KSJ Tracker January 14, 2013

Should you stock up on Tamiflu?

It doesn't always take a long post to deliver a solid jolt of important news. 

Here's what prompts me to say so:  a modest Forbes post last week by Harlan Krumholz of Yale University, a doctor and an expert on drug testing and clinical trials. Entitled "The Myth of Tamiflu: 5 Things You Should Know," it reports that the flu drug Tamiflu has been oversold. "The problem is that we actually know little about the effectiveness and safety of Tamiflu – and Roche [its maker] is not willing to share all the relevant data they have," he writes.

Krumholz reminds us that the poor data on Tamiflu has fooled even the U.S. government, which stockpiled Tamiflu worth $1.5 billion while preparing for the outbreak of H1N1 flu. Drawing on a report by the Cochrane Collaboration, which reviews evidence for and against medical procedures and findings, he notes that all the trials of the flu drug were sponsored by its manufacturer. And 60% of the data from the Tamiflu treatment trials has never been published.

It's also unclear, he writes, whether Tamiflu shortens hospital stays, reduces complications, or affects transmission of the virus. The studies did show that Tamiflu reduced the duration of the illness by "about a day."

"There remains substantial uncertainty about whether this drug is worth taking," Krumholz writes, noting that Roche has failed to release additional information. "Why," Krumholz asks, "are they unwilling to share the information they have?"

To be safe, follow Michael Spector's advice in a post at The New Yorker: "For God's sake, go get a flu shot."

-Paul Raeburn

Thanks to Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org for calling this to my attention.

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