US study affirms the need for influenza treatment in children
The flu can lead to serious complications, even death, in children, but few studies have assessed the effectiveness of antiviral treatments on the young.
Now a large study, published yesterday in the journal Pediatri cs, has found that prompt use of antiviral medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza can save the lives of flu-stricken children in intensive-care units, yet the drugs are being used less frequently than they once were.
"Antivirals matter and they decrease mortality. The sooner you give them the more effectively they do that," said Dr Peggy Weintrub, the chief of paediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not part of the research. "We didn't have nice proof on a large scale until this study."
Researchers at the California Department of Public Health and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention studied records of 800 children admitted to hospital suffering from influenza in that state from April 2009 to September last year. Of the 653 children treated with drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors 6 per cent died, compared with 8 per cent of 131 children who did not receive antiviral treatment.
Since 2009, the year of the H1N1 flu pandemic, the US government has recommended prompt treatment with antiviral drugs for all hospital patients with suspected or confirmed influenza. The directive includes children, especially those who have conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease that raise risk of severe influenza.
But the authors of the new study found that while 90 per cent of critically ill children received antiviral drugs during the pandemic, just 63 per cent received them in the two-year period after the pandemic, starting in September 2010.
"Antiviral use has decreased since the pandemic," said Dr Janice Louie, the lead author of the study and a public health medical officer at the California Department of Public Health. "One of the goals of the study was to increase awareness and remind clinicians that antiviral use is important in this population."