Should children suffering with flu-like symptoms be treated with Tamiflu?
British researchers say no, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization say yes.
So who’s right?
On Monday, researchers at the University of Oxford reported in the British Medical Journal that the antiviral drug does little to “cure” sick children with the H1N1 virus, and the medication's potentially harmful side effects outweigh the benefits.
"While morbidity and mortality in the current pandemic remain low, a more conservative strategy might be considered prudent, given the limited data, side effects such as vomiting, and the potential for developing resistant strains of influenza," they said.
But it appears those researchers are all alone in their thinking. In a statement to journalists, the World Health Organization said people severely sick with the H1N1 virus – including children – need to be promptly treated with Tamiflu.
And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agrees, deeming the drug safe for children as young as 1 year old.
"That's what the FDA has approved the drug for," Patrica El-Hinnawy, a press officer at the FDA told FOXNews.com.
Dr. Amy Ray, an infectious disease and public health specialist with University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said she would feel comfortable giving Tamiflu to children and has even seen an emerging trend to use Tamiflu in very ill children younger than a year old.
“So basically if the child is 6-months-old and very sick, then it can be used,” Ray said. “There is a limited amount of data on children younger than a year and Tamiflu, but the data that does exist suggests that the adverse effects from Tamiflu are rare. If the child is severely ill, then treatment should be started.”
Ray said the most common side effects of Tamiflu – abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting – have been reported in only 10 percent of the patients who have taken it, and none of her patients has ever complained of those symptoms.
Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding, which produces Tamiflu, said there is significant clinical data showing Tamiflu to be effective and well-tolerated in children, and the data had been taken into account by both U.S. and European drug regulators in approving the medicine for youngsters.
The drug is also recommended for pregnant women, since the H1N1 virus can harm the brains of unborn babies. Six percent of H1N1 virus deaths in America have been pregnant women, as reported by the medical journal The Lancet, Ray said.
The bottom line, say Ray, the FDA and the WHO, is that adults and children with severe flu-like symptoms should be given Tamiflu immediately to reduce the risk of complications.
But healthy individuals with mild flu-like symptoms do not necessarily need to be treated with antivirals such as Tamiflu, the WHO said, as the chances of the infection worsening are considered low.
Reuters contributed to this report.