Earlier this month, NBC News ran an article titled “On Facebook, anti-vaxxers urged a mom not to give her son Tamiflu. He later died.” The thrust of the piece was that social-media platforms, and Facebook in particular, provide a place where parents an others can “…trade in false health information.” The article hints (and the headline practically screams) that the ability of parents to share medical information and advice online probably led to the death of a four-year-old boy and perhaps we ought to stamp it out.
Following the piece’s publication, the mother was subjected to online harassment and even death threats. This is nothing new for the piece’s author, Brandy Zadrozny, who has made a name for herself for harassing grieving parents and others who question medical orthodoxy. Inexplicably, Zadrozny has yet to write a piece attacking the parents of children who died after being given Tamiflu or other conventional medical treatments.
It would require more than one article to address all of the falsehoods contained in this one piece, so I will try to stick to the most pertinent ones:
First, the article’s headline suggests that the boy died because members of the Facebook group convinced the mother not to give her son Tamiflu. In fact, in her post to the group (which is quoted in the article), the mother states that she did not pick up the Tamiflu her doctor had prescribed. This was not a decision she was led to by anyone in the group, but one she had already made. Dissolving Illusions: ... Best Price: $38.50 Buy New $21.60 (as of 11:00 EDT - Details)
Moreover, it is not even clear that she did not eventually give her son Tamiflu. The mother is quoted elsewhere as saying “(w)e called the doctors. We called the hospital. We gave them the medicine we were instructed to give. We did everything.”
Much more significantly though, the entire article is premised on the presumption that the responsible thing to do for a child who is suffering from the flu (or “flu-like symptoms”) is to give that child Tamiflu, and that those who offer up “alternative” (read: non-pharmaceutical) treatments are behaving recklessly and putting lives at risk.
In fact, just the opposite is true.
In 2014, and after spending four years trying to get the data from the companies that produce Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) and Relenza (Zanamivir), the Cochrane Review published this comprehensive review of the actual data underlying previous studies. According to the Cochrane Review:
“It was initially believed that NIs would reduce hospital admissions and complications of influenza, such as pneumonia, during influenza pandemics. However, the original evidence presented to government agencies around the world was incomplete, raising questions about the accuracy of these claims…
“…Over the last six years, following publication of the first Cochrane Reviews of oseltamivir and zanamivir, the Cochrane NI Research Group has accessed and reviewed more than 160,000 pages of regulatory documents in order to examine the full evidence picture…
“The review confirms small benefits on symptom relief, namely shortening duration of symptoms by half a day on average. However, there is little evidence to support any belief that use of NIs reduces hospital admission or the risk of developing confirmed pneumonia. The evidence also suggests that there are insufficient grounds to support the use of NIs in preventing the person-to-person spread of influenza.
“…Initially thought to reduce hospitalisations and serious complications from influenza, the review highlights that [NIs are] not proven to do this, and it also seems to lead to harmful effects that were not fully reported in the original publications.” (Bold mine.)
To be completely fair to Tamiflu, a separate study that came out soon after the Cochrane Review found a reduced mortality associated with Tamiflu use in those patients significantly affected enough to be admitted to hospital. However it also found that “(T)hese associations with reduced mortality risk were less pronounced and not significant in children.”
Meanwhile, Hoffmann La-Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, is being sued by a whistleblower for “…misrepresenting clinical studies and falsely claiming that its well-known influenza medicine Tamiflu was effective at containing potential pandemics.”
According to the Lanier Lawfirm:
“Drug company Hoffmann-La Roche (OTCMKTS – RHHBY) bilked U.S. federal and state governments out of $1.5 billion by misrepresenting clinical studies and falsely claiming that its well-known influenza medicine Tamiflu was effective at containing potential pandemics, according to a recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit.
“The lawsuit claims the drugmaker’s scheme involved publishing misleading articles falsely stating that Tamiflu reduces complications, severity, hospitalizations, mortality and transmission of influenza. The company then used those articles to aggressively market the drug to the government for pandemic use. Relying on the supposed truthfulness of Roche’s claims, federal and state governments spent about $1.5 billion to stockpile Tamiflu to combat influenza pandemics, according to the complaint.” (Bold mine.)
Quite apart from the drug’s poor efficacy are the “harmful effects …not fully reported in the original publications.” These include potentially fatal central nervous system suppression, possible Tamiflu-induced pneumonia, and the well-publicized neuropsychiatric effects that led to the Japanese health ministry issuing a warning against the drug’s use in teenagers in 2007. Even NBC knew about this.
Indeed, there have been several reports of children and teenagers dying after having been prescribed Tamiflu. Yet somehow, even with the known risks of the drug, and no good evidence supporting any meaningful efficacy in children, the parents of these children have escaped NBC’s and Zadrozny’s ire.
CRAZY ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES
But just because the NBC piece is completely wrong about Tamiflu, that doesn’t mean it is wrong about everything, right?
After all, the article says:
“The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.”
Surely it is irresponsible for people to recommend non-pharmaceutical flu treatments that are not “medically recommended”?
As it turns out, studies back the use of all three of the treatments mentioned against infection (two specifically for the flu) and one is explicitly recommended by the CDC.
The claim that breastmilk can help to protect against the flu virus and other pathogens is not even controversial. Here is what the CDC has to say on the matter (bold mine):
“A mother’s breast milk contains antibodies and other immunological factors that can help protect her infant from flu and is the recommended source of nutrition for the infant, even while the mother is ill.”
“When an infant has flu, the mother should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding or feeding expressed breast milk to her infant. Infants who are ill need fluids to stay hydrated and breast milk is the best option.”
OK but what about this kooky elderberry stuff? Surely that must be a bunch of woo-woo hippie crackpot nonsense? Jabbed: How the Vaccin... Best Price: $13.02 Buy New $13.05 (as of 03:50 EST - Details)
A study in 2004 of 60 patients found that those who took elderberry syrup within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms experienced relief of those symptoms an average of 4 days earlier than did patients given a placebo syrup.
Another study, in 2009, showed a dramatic improvement in flu symptoms in a group treated with elderberry extract as compared to a placebo group. And last year, a study published in the Journal of Functional Foods identified some of the mechanisms of action that make elderberry extract effective against the influenza virus.
And what about thyme?
If NBC is truly concerned about the spread of “medical misinformation,” then it need look no further than its own reporters. This ill-informed hit piece not only spreads potentially dangerous misinformation–promoting the use of a drug that has dangerous side effects and that has largely been discredited for use in children–but incites mob hatred against the mother of a child who has died.
No parent grieving the loss of a child should ever be subjected to the kind of abuse that the mother who was the target of this NBC article has had to endure. But to incite it under the pretense of promoting responsible medical decision-making, while in fact simply pushing the use of a dangerous and largely ineffective drug and maligning safer and more effective natural treatments, is nothing short of reprehensible.