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
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
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
"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