The director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, has made it clear that it’s of the utmost importance this year for doctors to immediately treat high risk patients with Tamiflu or other antiviral medications. CDC data suggests doctors are currently treating only one in five high risk patients with antiviral medicines, and they want this number to be higher.
Antivirals can be effective if given promptly once flu symptoms arise, according to the CDC. Antivirals given within two days after flu symptoms arise have the potential to lessen the number of days a person is sick with the flu. These drugs can also keep patients from getting so sick they need to be admitted to the hospital intensive care unit, or even dying. The CDC has announced loud and clear that antivirals save lives when used.
The CDC is asking doctors not to wait for flu confirmation with the highest risk patients including children, pregnant women, those very sick with the flu, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. With these patients antivirals should be prescribed if flu is suspected even before officially confirming with test results. The CDC reiterated this message to doctors on Friday, also noting there is a new antiviral called Rapivab which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month. This new antiviral can be given to patients who can’t take Tamiflu, or another antiviral called Relenza.
Part of the problem is that some doctors don’t feel antivirals work. Last year the Cochrane Collaboration, a respected network of researchers around the world, reviewed studies on antivirals and came to the conclusion the evidence doesn’t support the claims that Tamiflu is able to reduce flu complications and hospitalizations. While the CDC acknowledges the group’s work, it claims the the research the Cochrane Collaboration used had limitations. Specifically, none of the studies included patients who were hospitalized with the flu. The CDC is making its recommendations based on observational studies which aren’t as rigorous, but do include flu patients who have been hospitalized. These suggest the antivirals do provide a benefit.
This comes as the CDC announced that flu is now widespread in 46 out of the 50 states. The current flu season is in week number seven. A typical flus season lasts about thirteen weeks. For those who haven’t gotten a flu shot, it’s still highly recommended. Even though it isn’t as effective as in past years, it still can lessen the symptoms and it does protect against other flu variations which are also out there this season. Of course, the best course of action is to take steps to avoid getting the flu in the first place.
(Image courtesy of the CDC)