March 22, 2007
By Richard Lloyd Parry and Nigel Hawkes
The main line of defence against pandemic flu came under threat yesterday after the Japanese Government said that the drug Tamiflu should not be prescribed to teenagers.
The warning to GPs came after the drug was linked to 18 deaths in Japan that were caused by suicidal or irrational behaviour.
The Japanese Government also told the Japanese distributor of the drug to include a warning not to give it to patients aged between 10 and 19. Japan consumes 60 per cent of the world’s Tamiflu.
Britain has bought 14.9 million doses of Tamiflu from the manufacturer, Roche. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said that it had received only two reports of psychiatric symptoms associated with Tamiflu — both involving confusion in elderly patients. It said that there were no reports of depression or suicide linked to the drug.
Last month the European Medicines Agency, which licenses Tamiflu in Europe, asked Roche to incorporate new advice in the “summary product characteristics” document sent to doctors. This will say that there have been reports of abnormal responses but that they cannot be causally linked to Tamiflu. It also urges the close monitoring of patients, especially children.
Roche said yesterday: “Reports of such events leading to death are extremely rare, occurring in around one out of every 5 million influenza patients treated . . . US databases indicate psychiatric symptoms are lower in influenza patients taking Tamiflu versus those not taking Tamiflu.” Anti-Tamiflu campaigners in Japan urged the Government to remove the drug from sale.