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The Health Ministry has dismissed the conclusions of a new University of Oxford study claiming there is "no clear evidence" that the prescription antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza prevent complications in children who have seasonal influenza.
The study was published this week in the online edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Known as neuraminidase inhibitors, these drugs are being given to children and adults at high risk for complications from the H1N1 flu virus as well.
The authors write that it is difficult to know the extent to which their findings can be generalized to children in the current swine flu pandemic. However, based on current evidence, the effects of antivirals on reducing the course of illness or preventing complications might be limited, the researchers headed by Dr. Matthew Thompson claim.
The team conducted a review of four trials on the treatment of flu in 1,766 children (1,243 with confirmed flu, 55 to 69% with type A, the same strain as swine flu) and three trials involving the use of antivirals to limit the spread of flu.
They conclude that while antivirals shorten the duration of flu in children by up to 36 hours, the expensive drugs have "little or no effect" on complications in children such as flareups of asthma, increased ear infections or the likelihood of children needing antibiotics.
Some who had Tamiflu, they say, were more likely to suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Prof. Dan Engelhard, a leading Hadassah University Medical Center pediatrician and a ministry adviser on infectious diseases, said that "Tamiflu has been given to a very large number of children in Israel and abroad for H1N1 flu. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are well-known side effects of the flu, but they are not dangerous and not common."
"Tamiflu has been proven effective in treating children and adults who are sick with the flu," said Engelhard, whose views were endorsed by the ministry.
Giving Tamiflu to children at high risk is very important, and doctors and parents should not conclude on the basis of the University of Oxford study that such treatment is unnecessary, the ministry said.
But Tamiflu should be given only by a doctor's prescription, according to the physician's familiarity with the patient and his condition.