New Concerns About A Popular Flu Drug

By: Jessa Goddard
By: Jessa Goddard

Knoxville (WVLT) – There are some new concerns about the most widely used flu drug in the world.

Since it was launched in 1999, more than 48 million patients have used Tamiflu.

Advisers from the Food and Drug Administration say it should carry a stronger warning label about psychiatric problems seen in a handful of patients.

Locally, one doctor says despite the new warning, he won't stop prescribing the drug.

Tamiflu's label already mentions reports of delirium and self injury, but some FDA advisers say it should also mention that several patients have died as a result.

Of the nearly 600 cases of psychiatric problems that have been reported in Tamiflu patients, five children died after falling from windows and balconies, or running into traffic.

But, internal medicine doctor Michael Green says it's unclear whether the psychiatric problems are a side effect of the drug or the flu itself.

"People that are sick with the flu can have electrolyte abnormalities and can be sick enough that they have some signs of even mental illness,” said Dr. Green.

When suffering from the Flu, fevers can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which can also cause delirium and hallucinations.

Drug maker Roche performed an analysis of more than 150,000 patients and found no connection between Tamiflu and increased risk of psychiatric problems.

"The vast majority of people that take this medicine really do fine,” said Dr. Green, “and it really has made a dramatic difference in some people being able to return to work earlier or potentially not having the side effects of the flu."

Dr. Green says despite the FDA's new warning, he will continue to prescribe Tamiflu for patients who seek treatment within two to three days of getting flu.

"We certainly want the FDA to keep us informed of potential side effects and risks, but you know we really are going to prescribe this medicine pretty much unchanged for most people," he said.

Tamiflu has been shown to lessen the symptoms and shorten the course of flu by about one day.

Of course, there's no risk to consider if you avoid getting flu altogether and it's still not too late to get vaccinated.

The Knox County Health Department is still offering free flu shots and Flumist to children under 19 at all four county locations.

Adult flu vaccinations are $15 and no appointment necessary.


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