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Drugs "slash" flu risk

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Two anti-flu drugs available in the UK oseltamivir and zanamivir may reduce the risk of developing influenza A and B by as much as 90 per cent, according to a team of scientists from the University of Leicester, Leicester Royal Infirmary and the University of Sheffield.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they outline a review looking at the drugs, known as neuraminidase inhibitors, in three population groups children under the age of 12, adults at high risk from influenza and otherwise healthy individuals.

The participants came from 17 treatment trials and seven prevention trials that compared the two drugs against patients taking a placebo or receiving standard care.

Treating otherwise healthy adults and children with oseltamivir and zanamivir reduced the duration of symptoms by a day, the researchers found.

In addition, the team said the two drugs cut the odds of developing flu by 70 to 90 per cent, depending on the treatment strategy adopted and the population studied.

The two medications also provided a 29 per cent to 43 per cent reduction in the odds of complications requiring antibiotics when given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

But the findings were less conclusive in the high-risk population, and little evidence exists on serious complications requiring admission to hospital or causing death or adverse events.

The authors conclude, Research is needed into the comparative effectiveness of neuraminidase inhibitors with one another and the potential added value of these drugs compared with or in combination with flu vaccine.

The study was commissioned by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and helped form the institutes guidance on flu drugs, published in February. The guidance recommended that the drugs be freely available on the NHS to those considered at risk from flu, such as people over 65 or those with chronic diseases.

Oseltamivir is marketed by Roche as Tamiflu and zanamivir is marketed under the brand name Relenza by GlaxoSmithKline. 

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