CDC head urges physicians to prescribe antivirals aggressively to limit flu cases

Jan. 12, 2015

In a telebriefing for reporters held January 9, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, confirmed what many Americans have observed—that a harsh flu season is underway in the United States. He called 2014-2015 “a bad year for flu, especially for older people and people with underlying health conditions.” According to government statistics, 26 people had died of flu as of early last month, and hospitalizations among patients over 65 had increased significantly. One reason, Frieden indicated, is that the predominant strain this year is the unusually virulent H3N2. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of the observed H3N2 strains were not included in this year's flu shot.

Dr. Frieden used the forum to urge physicians to prescribe antiviral medications such as Roche’s Tamiflu even before cases are confirmed by laboratory analysis as part of efforts to control the disease. “In the context of an H3N2 predominant season, with a less effective vaccine, treatment with anti-flu drugs is even more important than usual,” he said. There has been considerable debate about the value of the antivirals; the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group formed to review clinical trials, has strongly questioned the efficacy of Tamiflu. One recent Cochrane news release asserts that “there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza.” According to Frieden, however, CDC scientists are satisfied that there is “compelling evidence” that, particularly when used within the first 48 hours of infection, antivirals help to reduce the severity and duration of the flu.

Read the transcript of the January 9 telebriefing