Flu Drugs: Limited Help for Kids?

Scant Evidence Flu Medicines Do More Than Shorten Duration of Illness

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 10, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 10, 2009 -- Doctors rely on flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza to prevent severe illness in at-risk kids, but there's little evidence to show they do more than shorten the time kids are sick.

An Oxford University review of clinical studies shows that kids with lab-confirmed flu get better a half-day to a day-and-a-half earlier if they take Tamiflu or Relenza.

The review also shows that if kids take a 10-day course of Tamiflu or Relenza when someone in their household has the flu, they are 8% less likely to get the flu. That means 13 people have to be treated to prevent one case of flu.

Only one study looked at giving Tamiflu to kids with asthma. Tamiflu did not reduce the number of asthma attacks in kids with lab-confirmed flu.

Two of three studies that looked at the issue found that Tamiflu and Relenza can shorten the duration of coughing during flu illness. But treatment seemed to have no effect on whether kids got middle ear infections (otitis media) or whether they received antibiotics during their illness.

The studies showed that kids tolerated Relenza well. About one in 20 kids who took Tamiflu had vomiting.

All of the studies looked at kids with seasonal flu. There are no data on whether the drugs work better or worse against pandemic H1N1 swine flu, although the virus remains sensitive to both drugs.

"The effects [of Tamiflu and Relenza] on the incidence of serious complications, and on the current H1N1 [swine flu] influenza strain remain to be determined," conclude study researchers Matthew Shun-Shin and colleagues.

The findings appear in the Aug. 10 online edition of BMJ.