Flu Season is officially upon us. We've had several cases of the "real" flu in the Clinic in the last few weeks. I say "real" flu because many patients (and some MD/NP's) think that a case of Nausea/Vomiting/Diarrhea is also the flu, but it's not.
Influenza Virus can be a real killer, wiping out thousands in decades past. So we are justified in fearing it and it's consequences. Also, any time we fear something, whether logical or not, the corporations have an opportunity to take advantage of that fear and turn it into dollars for them. In this post I'm going to discuss another way that a big corporation took advantage of societies fear of something and turned a so-so product into a big profit.
I'm sure you remember the Bird Flu pandemic that wasn't, a few years ago. That's about the time that Tamiflu became a household word. Let's look at a few interesting facts about Tamiflu and then you can make up your own mind.
Manufactered by Genentech, Tamiflu was marketed as the cure for the common flu. The marketing was subtle and well worded, and busy doctors drew their own conclusions about just how amazing it was.
Problem is, when you delve into the actual published studies it's hard to find that Tamiflu really does anything. We tend to think that a Medicine intended for a specific Disease should actually cure or at least significantly shorten the duration of that disease. Turns out that all Tamiflu really does for you is shorten the duration of the flu by a little more than one day. That's it. And, it only does that if you start taking it within the first 48 hours of your first symptom. It doesn't decrease hospitalizations, it doesn't decrease complications, it doesn't decreased flu-related deaths, it doesn't make you any less contagious, nope. And if you start taking it any later than 48 hours after your first symptom then it does exactly nothing, at all!
Tamiflu costs well over $100, and can have some pretty nasty side effects of it's own (nausea, vomiting, behavioral disturbances). Problem is, when a mom comes down with the flu she will do anything to get better quicker, so she will go to her doctor who will do anything he can to help his patients get better quicker. So he tells her Tamiflu might help you bet better quicker and she hears him say Tamiflu will help you get better quicker so you can get back to being a mom, so she spends $100+ she can't afford for a "medicine" which does nothing for her at all. See how Big-Pharma played on the human nature (fear of the Mom and desire to help of the Doc) of everyone involved to make a profit?
My advice if you come down with the flu is to collapse on the nearest couch, tell your family to stay at least 20ft away at all times, drink lots of fluids, take some motrin and watch House reruns until you are better. That's what I plan to do...