Monday, February 8, 2010

Investigations: H1N1 Might not Have Been a Pandemic

Concerns about how Canadian and other public-health authorities handled the H1N1 pandemic are finally starting to make their way into Canadian media. As I noted in this post in November, Canadian journalists have been astonishingly uncritical in their "reporting" on the flu outbreak. Prot├ęger-Vous, the Quebec consumer magazine, has just published this interesting in-depth look at the pandemic, which some prominent health experts now say was not a true pandemic at all.
For a critical look at H1N1 and the flu vaccine, see this story I did in The Georgia Straight last November. And to see an investigation I did last summer on how flu cases correlated strongly with intensive hog farming operations, see here and here.

On a related note, the British Medical Journal has just published this interesting critical review of the research trials done on Tamiflu, one of the main antiviral drugs stockpiled worldwide to combat H1N1 and other seasonal flus at a cost of several billion dollars. The review found that most of the studies of the drug's effectiveness and side-effects had not been published in peer-reviewed journals, were sponsored by the drug-maker itself or were poorly designed.

Limited evidence suggests that benefits from Tamiflu are modest - a half-day to one-day reduction in flu symptoms, if taken within 48 hours of their onset - while the rate of side-effects (including some reports of sudden behaviour changes, suicidal tendencies, hallucination and sudden death during sleep) has not been thoroughly studied. The review's surprising conclusion: Tamiflu and related drugs "should not be used in routine control of seasonal influenza."

For more perspective on this paper, see this analysis by the U.S. Center for Medical Consumers.

TAGS: H1N1, health