The Dail Mail has helpfully informed us that reports of adverse events in those taking the anti-viral Tamiflu doubled in just one week. Shocking. Truly shocking.
Comments below the piece include the following: “I would rather take my chances of catching it w As always it has been blown out of all proportion“; “Tamiflu shelf-life is three years. The bilions of pounds/dollars blown on Tamiflu as “avian flu treatment” would have been wasted if were not for the “swine flu pandemic”. Waste-not : want not“; and “Haven’t you all realised yet that it’s all a conspiracy. The government want to kill us all off.” (I think that last one is tongue-in-cheek.)
The Mail tell us that:
Fears over the side effects of Tamiflu grew last night as it was revealed that the number of suspected adverse reactions had doubled in one week.
Figures from the drugs safety watchdog, seen by the Daily Mail, show there have been 293 reports of side effects from the powerful antiviral since the beginning of April, when the swine flu outbreak began.
This compares to the 150 reported the week before – a jump of 143 in only seven days. The cases include heart and eye problems, and psychiatric disorders.
What the Mail don’t tell us is how many people were taking Tamiflu in the week when there were 150 reported adverse events and how many were taking it in the week when there were 293. If the number of prescriptions had roughly doubled in a week, then one might also expect the number of adverse events to be roughly double the previous week’s total. While I do not have figures that show the number of prescriptions for the week in question, it has been reported that there has been a huge surge in sales of Tamiflu, that Roche expects sales of Tamiflu to triple to nearly $2 billion this year, and that Sales in the first quarter 2009 were $347 million worldwide, of which Roche noted that $264 million were pandemic stockpiling and $84 million were from seasonal use.
What does the Daily Mail article tell us about adverse events due to Tamiflu? Well, virtually nothing. We have no idea whether the week with 150 reports was typical, no idea how many people were taking the drug in either of the weeks that the Mail was using to compare figures, and no idea whether the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks. The Mail have told us pretty much nothing of any use.
What they have done is provide a comment box for their readers to outline their pet conspiracy theory about Big Pharma or the Government, whether it be about ‘not wasting the stocks of Tamiflu bought to combat avian flu’ or about swine flu being “blown out of all proportion” (or about the Government plot to kill us all, if you believe that the commenter I quoted earlier was being serious). Ah, well. I suppose it lets them get it off their chest. And possibly saves a few family members, friends, and colleagues from yet another rant about the evils of New Labour and/or Big Pharma. So I suppose you could argue that some good might have come from the Mail’s article.
Here is a piece from Ben Goldacre about Tamiflu. It includes links to Cochrane and NICE reviews.