New Study Finds No Link Between Tamiflu and Teen Suicide

As flu activity continues to decline in the United States, some states are still reporting a record number of flu illnesses, as a new study debunks concerns that the use of Tamiflu may lead to increased suicide risk in teens.

As flu activity continues to decline in the United States, some states are still reporting a record number of flu illnesses, as a new study debunks concerns that the use of Tamiflu may lead to increased suicide risk in teens.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) FluView report for week 9 ending March 3, 2018, notes that while influenza A (H3N2) has predominated the 2017-2018 flu season, there has been a late-season surge of influenza B. According to the report, influenza A viruses made up 47.1% of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza, while 52.9% of specimens tested positive for influenza B during week 9. The number of states reporting widespread influenza activity declined from 45 states last week to 34. The number of laboratory-confirmed flu-related hospitalizations in the United States since the start of the flu season rose from 23,324 to 24,644, but the rate of hospitalizations continues to drop. In addition, there were 5 new flu-related pediatric deaths reported during week 9, bringing the total to 119 for the season.

Meanwhile, Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) recently reported that the state’s number of flu cases and flu deaths hit an all-time high this season. In a March 12 press release, the state’s Division of Public Health (DPH) reported 2 new flu-related deaths, bringing the total for the 2017-2018 season to 30; the 2 new flu victims were 83 and 84 years old. The previous single-season record occurred during the 2014-2015 season when Delaware reported 28 flu deaths. The state has also reported 7,071 flu cases this season to break the record of 4,554 set in 2014-2015.

"We are terribly saddened to learn of even more deaths this flu season," said Karyl Rattay, MD, MS, the director of DPH. "We've never seen a flu season this severe before and hope to never see one again. It's important for everyone to remember that flu continues to circulate in Delaware, and to keep practicing vital prevention measures such as social distancing and frequent hand washing."

While health officials continue to recommend the flu shot to help prevent catching the flu and the antiviral drug Tamiflu to ease flu symptoms, a new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine has found that despite concerns that have persisted for more than a decade, Tamiflu use in teens does not increase the risk of suicide. The study, conducted by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers, follows past case reports of abnormal behavior in adolescents who took the medication. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began including a warning on Tamiflu packaging that pediatric use of the drug may lead to neuropsychiatric side effects, including hallucinations, delirium, self-harm, and even suicide.

Since then, there have been limited and inconclusive clinical studies on the potential link between Tamiflu use and such side effects. To put the debate to rest, UIC researchers examined 21,047 children between the ages of 1 and 18 who attempted suicide during the flu seasons occurring from 2009 to 2013. The researchers identified 251 children who had been exposed to Tamiflu and conducted an analysis of the group as well as an analysis of those with flu diagnosis alone.

“The potential link between a drug and suicide is a particularly difficult topic to study,” said study author James Antoon, MD, PhD, in a recent press release. “Many events, which can happen simultaneously or over time, can influence a person to attempt suicide, as can an illness itself — so it can be difficult to study scientifically.”

By looking at the 10-day period before each suicide attempt and comparing it with other control periods of the same length, the researchers used a case-crossover design to analyze the behavior of each child on Tamiflu and compare it with behavior while they were not taking the drug.

“We did not find any association between exposure to Tamiflu and suicide in pediatric patients,” said Dr. Antoon. While the findings should help to ease concerns about the use of the antiviral drug in children, the researchers say that doctors will probably continue to prescribe Tamiflu with caution.

Feature Picture Source: Tony Hisgett / flickr / Creative Commons.

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