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GPs warned not to rely on antivirals in flu pandemic

GPs should not rely on antivirals to control a flu pandemic as there is no way of knowing if they will work, researchers warn.

A new Cochrane review, published online by The Lancet, found no evidence antiviral drugs were effective against avian flu or pandemic influenza viruses.

The researchers warned the Government's pandemic plans had placed too much emphasis on the use of drugs and urged GPs to put good infection control plans in place.

Study leader Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome and a former GP in the UK, said: 'We're not saying they wouldn't work but we're saying we don't know.

'The use of neuraminidase inhibitors in a serious epidemic or pandemic should not be considered without concomitant measures, such as use of masks, gowns, gloves, quarantine and hand-washing. Let's not forget what stopped SARS.'

The Department of Health, which has ordered 14 million doses of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) for use in a pandemic, responded: 'When used in countries where people have contracted avian flu, Tamiflu has had an effect. Our antiviral strategy is kept under constant review and we are looking carefully at alternatives as a possible back-up to Tamiflu.'

The review, of 52 randomised controlled trials of antivirals for the treatment and prophylaxis of flu in healthy adults, also concluded neuraminidase inhibitors should not be used in seasonal flu because of their low effectiveness.

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