Doctors debate Tamiflu's healing effects

SEATTLE -- In the height of flu season in our state, people have been desperate to find relief. Many have turned to the anti-viral prescription Tamiflu. However, it’s at the center of a debate of whether the drug is the best option for everyone with the flu.

Dr. Po Tu says The Everett Clinic has been busy treating people with flu symptoms. So far this season, since December 1, until January 8, Tu says the clinic gave out more than 1,200 prescriptions of Tamiflu, which is more than the entire season the year before. However, not every doctor is quick to prescribe the medication because, they say, in some cases the risk will outweigh the benefit.

“There’s a little debate for those of us in practice. What I do is if I see a patient with influenza, I give them a choice,” said Dr. Rick Bowles of Pacific Medical Centers. “I say look, if you give Tamiflu right now, and don’t wait another day or two because it won't do any good, you might shorten the course of your illness by 0.8 days. Maybe it’s worth it, but side effects are definitely known with it. Nausea is pretty strong with it; you can get some mental confusion, psychiatric things... and cost.”

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which just announced the flu-related death toll in Pierce County has risen to 12, says Tamiflu is recommended for those who are at high risk for flu complications.

“It can help people who are sick with the flu get over it, it can also help people who aren’t but who may be at high risk, such as children under 2 and people who are 65 or older, prevent getting it,” said Steve Metcalf, with the Tacoma- Pierce County Health Department

Tu from The Everett Clinic says:

-In healthy individuals, Tamiflu is most effective if started earlier than 48 hours of seeing symptoms, otherwise it probably will not help.

-If you do take Tamiflu within 48 hours of flu symptoms, it will decrease symptoms by one day.

-However, for those who have underlying health conditions, Tamiflu could decrease hospitalization time and prevent death.

-Tamiflu’s greatest benefit is to those less than 2 years of age, greater than 65 or those with high risk.