Government recommends antivirals for flu prevention

GPs are recommended to prescribe antiviral drugs to prevent or treat flu, the DoH advises, following a sharp rise in cases of flu.

Tamiflu is an anti-viral drug used to treat influenza (Photograph: SPL)
Tamiflu is an anti-viral drug used to treat influenza (Photograph: SPL)

The department has recommended that antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) should be prescribed as a prophylaxis or treatment in line with existing NICE guidance.

In response, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) urged those in at-risk groups to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of serious illness.

During the swine flu pandemic last year, Tamiflu and Relenza were recommended to treat all clinically diagnosed cases of influenza.

It was also advised as a preventive measure for those who had come into contact with infected patients; were pregnant; or had a serious underlying medical condition.

These pandemic-specific recommendations were relaxed after the pandemic ended.

But the H1N1 strain is now circulating as one of the seasonal flu viruses and recent HPA data shows a spike in cases of flu.

In a letter to healthcare professionals, the DoH director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury said people presenting with flu-like illness are now likely to be infected with the flu virus.

As such, the government recommended that GPs and other health professionals follow NICE guidance for antivirals. This recommends Tamiflu and Relenza for the prophylaxis and treatment of flu.

Professor Salisbury advised that antivirals should be used when:

  • a person with a flu-like illness is in an ‘at-risk’ group and they can start treatment within 48 hours (or within 36 hours for zanamivir treatment in children) of the onset of symptoms as per licensed indications
  • the national surveillance schemes indicate that influenza virus A or B is circulating (as the first part of this letter confirms)

Professor Salisbury added: ‘I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of GP practices achieving high uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among their patients in at-risk groups, pregnant women and healthcare workers.’

Dr John Watson, a flu expert at the HPA, said: 'Flu vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza. If you are in an at risk group and you haven't had your jab, we recommend you make an appointment with your GP or medical practitioner now.'

Stephen Robinson

GP Online recommends

Swine Flu resource centre

Read more

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

COVID-19 vaccine stocks must not be diverted to large sites ahead of local GPs, warns BMA

COVID-19 vaccine stocks must not be diverted to large sites ahead of local GPs, warns BMA

The government must ‘ramp up’ COVID vaccine supplies to general practice and avoid...

UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

UK COVID-19 vaccination programme tracker

GPs across the UK are playing a leading role in the largest-ever NHS vaccination...

GP-led sites behind almost three quarters of COVID-19 jabs in England

GP-led sites behind almost three quarters of COVID-19 jabs in England

GP-led vaccination sites have delivered nearly three quarters of COVID-19 vaccine...

GPs should ignore calls to throw away usable COVID-19 vaccine, says RCGP

GPs should ignore calls to throw away usable COVID-19 vaccine, says RCGP

Suggestions that vaccination sites should throw away usable doses of COVID-19 vaccine...

GPs urged to use influence to dispel COVID-19 vaccine myths and boost BAME uptake

GPs urged to use influence to dispel COVID-19 vaccine myths and boost BAME uptake

GPs have been encouraged to use their ‘huge influence’ to bust misinformation around...

Six in 10 over-80s vaccinated against COVID-19 as figures expose regional variation

Six in 10 over-80s vaccinated against COVID-19 as figures expose regional variation

Six in 10 people aged over 80 in England received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine...