By Amy Carmichael
Despite international controversy, Ryerson’s Health Centre is prescribing a new flu drug.
Relenza, a flu medication recently approved for use in Canada, has been criticized by experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence, where the drug is also available, for having little impact on symptoms and uncertain long term effects.
“There are questions about the effectiveness of this drug,” said Dr. David Lowe of the Ryerson Health Centre. “Some think flu sufferers are better off staying home, resting and getting over the illness on their own.”
Health Canada approved Relenza in December and already many Ryerson students are trusting it to ease their sore throats, runny noses and fevers.
Despite the concerns, Lowe still prescribed Relenza. “I think people have to think about how these drugs might affect the immune system,” he said. “But students can’t afford to be laid up with the flue for long periods of time.”
Relenza must be taken with an inhaler at least 48 hours after flu symptoms arise. Zanamivir, the active drug in Relenza breaks down the enzyme that allows the flu to spread throughout the body. It’s supposed to shorten flu symptoms by a day. Under the Ryerson health plan, students can get the inhaler and drug for only $10.
Experts at the U.S. FDA decided testing the drug, was flawed. The FDA analysts said Relenza has no benefits and refused to approve it—although the decision was overruled by FDA administration.
Officials at Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence warn that inclusion of the drug under the public health plan would be too expensive because many patients would be lured by the false promise of a flu cure.
The British National Health Service has refused to cover the drug, hurting Relenza’s chances of success in the market. As a result, the drug’s manufacturer has cut 1,700 jobs in Britain and is reportedly threatening to pull out of the country altogether.
Second-year architecture student Chris Johnston took the drug and was ambivalent about the results. “I think it worked for me, but there’s really no way of knowing, because you never know how long a flu is going to last or how bad it’s going to be,” Johnston said. “My whole family had it pretty bad, but I took the drug and felt better in a few days.”