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FDA Urges Safe and Appropriate Use of Flu Drugs

Cheryl A. Thompson

Reacting to reports of patients with serious bacterial infections receiving antiviral drugs instead of antibacterial agents, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised health care practitioners to act cautiously before prescribing flu drugs.

FDA noted that the recent approval and current promotion of zanamivir (Relenza, by Glaxo Wellcome) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu, by Roche) has attracted prescribers' and patients’ interest in using antiviral drugs specifically targeted at influenza A and B. For several years, amantadine and rimantadine have been available for treating illness caused by influenza A. 

In issuing its Talk Paper and Public Health Advisory last week, FDA called attention to the following three considerations: 

  1. Vaccination remains the primary method of preventing and controlling influenza. 
  2. Patients with severe influenza-like illness may actually have a bacterial infection that requires immediate treatment. 
  3. Special precautions should be taken with the use of zanamivir by patients who have underlying asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These precautions are described in the package insert.

For the week ending January 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that influenza is widespread in 31 states and the District of Columbia.