Danger from the Bird-Flu Drug?
By Bryan Walsh/Tokyo
Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2007
In 2004 a 17-year-old boy in the Japanese town of
What they have in common is that each victim took the influenza antiviral Tamiflu shortly before they died. According to the Japanese Health Ministry, 54 people have died after taking Tamiflu — the drug governments around the world have stockpiled for use against avian flu — since the drug was approved for use in Japan in 2000. Most suspiciously, in multiple cases people, including those cases above, acted erratically after taking Tamiflu. Though the Health Ministry has said there is no clear evidence linking Tamiflu to the deaths, there is growing concern among doctors and parents in
The anti-Tamiflu forces in
But according to the Japanese Health Ministry — and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — the side effects that
That hypothesis was bolstered by a Ministry of Health study last year that investigated 2,800 influenza cases and found that virtually the same percentage of victims showed abnormal behavior whether or not they had taken Tamiflu. Still, the recent spate of suspicious deaths was enough for the ministry late last month to issue a general warning that influenza can cause psychiatric problems. For its part the FDA last autumn reviewed 103 cases of neuropsychiatric events associated with Tamiflu use — 95% of the cases came from Japan — and concluded that it could not conclude whether the events were due to the drug, to influenza or some combination of the two. But the FDA did point out that the sudden suicide attempts seen in
The FDA has required Roche, the Swiss company that makes the drug, to put a caution on Tamiflu labels urging patients, doctors and parents to look out for strange behavior in anyone taking Tamiflu. Roche accepted the label change but, said a spokesperson, ?these events are extremely rare in relation to the number of patients treated.? The company reiterates that none of the cases were linked to Tamiflu.
If Tamiflu were only needed for normal, seasonal influenza, this debate wouldn't matter outside