Neuraminidase inhibitors including Tamiflu and Relenza are recommended by government health agencies for treating and preventing symptoms of the influenza virus in both children and adults. A review conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration has now revealed these treatment options may cause more harmful side effects compared to their ability to reduce and prevent flu-like symptoms.

“We now have the most robust, comprehensive review on neuraminidase inhibitors that exists,” said Dr. David Tovey, editor-in-chief at Cochrane, in a statement. “Initially thought to reduce hospitalizations and serious complications from influenza, the review highlights that Tamiflu is not proven to do this, and it also seems to lead to harmful effects that were not fully reported in the original publications. This shows the importance of ensuring that trial data are transparent and accessible.”

Back in 2009, researchers from Cochrane attempted a thorough review of Tamiflu and Relenza including their overall effect on the health of influenza patients. Unfortunately, results of the trial were inconclusive due to a lack of data access. In light of the failed assessment, health policy agencies on state and government levels made the decision to stockpile the drug, a decision both the British Medical Journal and Cochrane are trying to dissuade via this most recent review. Following the H1N1 virus outbreak back in April 2009, use of Tamiflu, Relenza, and other influenza drugs have seen a dramatic increase in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“Drug approval and use cannot be based on biased or missing information any longer. We risk too much in our population’s health and economy,” the research team leading the Cochrane Neuraminidase Inhibitors Review explained. “This updated Cochrane review is the first time a Cochrane systematic review has been based only on clinical study reports and regulator’s comments. It is the first example of open science in medicine using full clinical study reports available without conditions. And therefore the conclusions are that much richer."

Researchers involved with Cochrane Neuraminidase Inhibitors Review recruited 24,000 individuals to participate in a total 46 clinical trials. In 20 trials involving Tamiflu, adults and children were either given a dose of the drug or a placebo. The same experiment was carried out in 26 trials involving Relenza. The Cochrane Neuraminidase Inhibitors Review research team set out to determine each drug’s effectiveness in preventing influenza complications, hospitalizations due to influenza, and any side effects caused by the drug.

Although Tamiflu and Relenza were able relieve flu-like symptoms in adults by only half a day, there was no foreseeable difference in children. The two drugs also had no effect on hospitalizations caused by influenza complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. Of the patients who were given doses of Tamiflu or Relenza, the risk of nausea and vomiting increased by four percent in adults and five percent in children. Some of the participants also experienced certain neurological side effects, including headaches and psychiatric episodes. Results of the analysis were attributed to the drugs cutting off the body’s supply of antibodies for the purpose of fighting infection.

“We urge people not to trust in published trials alone or on comment from conflicted health decision makers, but to view the information for themselves,” the research team added.

There are certain household treatments people suffering from flu-like symptoms can apply in order to achieve a natural remedy. For example, our best defense against any bodily ailment is staying hydrated. Drinking and avoiding alcohol, coffee, and soda can go a long way in maintaining a healthy immune system. With its anti-inflammatory properties, chicken noodle soup can also serve as a natural, at-home remedy for boosting the movement of immune system cells. Lastly, avoid dry places where cold viruses thrive and seek humidity. Adding moisture to your home via a humidifier can prevent a stuffy nose and scratchy throat by dampening our airways' mucous membrane.

Source: Jefferson T, Heneghan C, Doshi P, et al. Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children. British Medical Journal. 2014.