Flu pill skids on safety quotient
Moreover, manufacturing the drug is complex and time-consuming. There are also problems in transferring it between units.india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 02:46 IST
Oseltamivir — brand name Tamiflu — is possibly the only effective drug to treat bird flu. The catch: it's only effective for roughly 50 per cent patients and triggers severe psychiatric side effects.
Moreover, manufacturing the drug is complex and time-consuming. There are also problems in transferring it between units.
The drug's efficacy depends on its administration, which is 48 hours after flu symptoms are detected. Originally, oseltamivir was intended to treat normal flu. But since it inhibits an important enzyme in humans, it is now being used to treat avian influenza.
Its adverse effects were first noticed in 2004 in Japan, when 12 children and teenagers who were administered oseltamivir died. While one of the children jumped from a high-rise, another flung himself at a bus. Subsequently, Japanese health authorities ordered that the literature distributed with the drug include neurological and psychological disorders as possible side effects.
A November 2005 report issued by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, said there was no insufficient evidence to prove a "causal link'' between the use of oseltamivir and the deaths in Japan. But it did recommend a warning on rashes.
Other likely side effects include nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, abdominal pain and headache. In rare cases, it might also trigger liver disorders.
Dr NK Ganguly, director of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), says that oseltamivir "was not the best of drugs and patients quickly become resistant to it.'' But as of now, there is no alternative. "The side-effects can be minimised by controlling dosage,'' he said.
A health ministry press release admits that "For cases of human infection with H5N1, the drugs may improve prospects of survival, if administered early, but clinical data are limited.'' Dr CM Gulhati, editor of a medical journal, Monthly Index of Medical Specialties, says the drug has not been adequately tested.