(HealthDay News) — The antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) reduced the risk of death by 25% among adults hospitalized during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, according to a review published online March 19 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. In addition, antiviral treatment within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms halved the risk of death compared with starting treatment later or receiving no treatment.

The researchers analyzed data from 78 studies that included more than 29,000 patients of all ages in 38 countries who were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected H1N1 infection between Jan. 2, 2009, and March 14, 2011. They found that the risk of death rose by about 20% for every 24 hours that treatment was delayed after 48 hours since the start of symptoms. Although treatment with Tamiflu reduced the risk of death in many groups of adults — including pregnant women and severely ill patients — it didn’t significantly reduce death risk among children.

Study lead author Jonathan Nguyen-Van-Tam, DM, of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, told HealthDay that many governments have stockpiles of Tamiflu approaching its expiration date. “But until now,” he said, “they had no adequate data to assist them in deciding if lives were saved in 2009 and 2010 or not, and whether they should replenish or not.”

“The situation is made more complex by the fact that when an influenza pandemic occurs, even with the best will in the world, vaccine arrives six months too late and its public-health benefit is therefore moderate at best,” Nguyen-Van-Tam added. “Thus we are left with antivirals like Tamiflu and public-health measures like handwashing and social distancing as the only defenses we have for the first six months of a pandemic.”

The review was funded by F. Hoffmann-La Roche, which owns Genentech, the manufacturer of Tamiflu.

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