THE Government’s policy on Tamiflu was plunged into confusion last night after experts said swine flu victims who are otherwise healthy do not need the drug.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued new guidance saying healthy people should recover from the virus quickly and there is no need for them to take Tamiflu or another drug, Relenza.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have received doses of the drugs, which are designed to cut the severity of the illness.
Many have collected Tamiflu after a phone assessment via the National Pandemic Flu Service or by filling in an online questionnaire.
In the North East, a total of 13,209 courses of antivirals were given to patients since the beginning of August.
This data relates to people collecting the drugs after an assessment via the National Pandemic Flu Service. Many more have collected antivirals via their GP.
There have been fears that mass use of Tamiflu will encourage the virus to become resistant to the antiviral.
Researchers have also expressed concern over the side effects of the drug, including sickness, nightmares and insomnia in children.
Dr George Rae, from Whitley Bay, chairman of the North Eastern British Medical Association, said: “As doctors we are making a clinical decision when patients phone up for flu advice. The average adult patient who does not have underlying health problems would not normally be prescribed antiviral medication.
“At present swine flu is viewed as no more serious than seasonal flu and we recommend patients take lots of rest and use standard paracetamol-based cold remedies to reduce their temperature and help relieve symptoms.
“We do not want to be in a situation where the average person is being prescribed antivirals.
“If antivirals are over-prescribed then we will be in a situation where doctors are having to deal with many of the side-effects such as abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases, hallucinations.
“There is real concern that swine flu will come in a second and, indeed, possibly a third wave in later this year and next year. Over prescribing Tamiflu at this stage makes it not an impossibility that resistance to the antiviral could develop and this is in nobody’s interest.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We believe a safety-first approach of offering antivirals, when required, to everyone remains a sensible and responsible way forward. However, we will keep this policy under review as we learn more about the virus and its effects.
“The WHO recommendations are in fact in line with UK policy on antivirals. We have consistently said that many people with swine flu only get mild symptoms, and they may find bed rest and over-the-counter flu remedies work for them.
“WHO state that 40% of severe cases worldwide have been in previously healthy children and adults and that serious cases should be treated immediately.
“This emphasises the need not to become complacent about the mildness of the illness and the reasoning behind a precautionary policy.”