Babies and children * Young people * Healthy living

Tamiflu causes side-effects in over 50% of children

stock image posed by actors Side-effect rate higher than expected

More than half of children treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu have suffered from side-effects such as feeling sick, headaches, tiredness, vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the latest research.

In two separate studies, scientists from the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) investigated the effect of treatment with Tamiflu on schoolchildren who had been given the drug to prevent them being infected after a classmate had fallen ill with swine flu. The children were treated in April and May when the UK government was trying to contain the pandemic.

In the first study of 248 secondary school children aged 11-12, over 50% experienced at least one side effect and said they felt unwell after taking the drug. About one third of school children treated reported feeling sick and a quarter suffered from headaches after treatment. Other side effects included tummy ache (21%), tiredness (17%), and vomiting (10%). Under 10% experienced trouble concentrating and diarrhoea.

Although the "symptoms were in line with the recognised side-effects of oseltamivir" when used to try to prevent infection, scientists found they occurred more often than expected. Oseltamivir is the generic name for Tamiflu.

In a second study involving 103 school children from one primary and two secondary schools in London, 53% suffered side effects, including feeling sick (29%), stomach pain and cramps (20%).

Almost one in five (18%) of the children questioned experienced one or more "neuropsychiatric effects" such as poor concentration, problems sleeping, feeling dazed or confused and nightmares. These effects were found more often in secondary than primary schoolchildren.

"This may be of particular concern to exam-year students," the report said.

Previous studies carried out in Japan had also suggested Tamiflu may be linked to more serious neuropsychiatric symptoms, particularly in those under 16.

Children in both studies were treated with Tamiflu for 10 days to prevent infection. People with flu usually receive a five day course of drugs. To date, over 150,000 people in the UK have received Tamiflu since the launch of the National Pandemic Flu Service.

This article was published on Fri 31 July 2009

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