An Unscientific Defence of Swine Flu Drug Tamiflu, by Someone Who Took It

By Gerald Lynch on at

Back in the summer of 2009, when I was unemployed and able to afford the luxury of being properly ill, I was struck down with swine flu. It nearly killed me (pretty much), and, despite today's damning report, anti-flu drug Tamiflu may have saved my life.

It was a particularly rubbish time for me to be hit with illness. The sun was shining with an intensity rare for our shores, and I'd just got a hold of tickets to two of my favourite acts -- TV on the Radio and Morrissey, neither of whom I'd seen play live before.

The symptoms started off harmless enough -- a snotty nose and a killer sore throat. Nothing that a standard cold didn't give you. I downed a few Lemsips and carried on with my day.

But then things got a bit weird. I started feeling a bit woozy, and very tired. I mean, "could barely move" tired. I was living at home with my parents at the time, so told them I was going to roll in for an early night, and went to bed.

I woke up the next day, coughing, spluttering and nauseous, and just couldn't get out of bed. Insight into my life -- I still shared a room with my younger brother, and we had bunkbeds. Yep, council flat life. Being lighter than my "little" bro, I naturally ended up in the top bunk, and I didn't have the strength to get out of it. I couldn't get down the short ladder, and had to be lifted down by my brother and my dad, who both thought I was exaggerating.

Thankfully, my mum was more sympathetic. The details of the week that followed are a bit of a blur to me, so lots of this story has come from her memories. She took my temperature, which she remembers going over 39 celsius.

As the days rolled on, I began vomiting more and more. My throat felt razor slashed, and so I barely ate anything, and of course the diarrhoea soon kicked in afterwards. Being basically immobile, you can imagine how much fun that was. Needless to say, I missed the TV on the Radio show I'd been looking forward to.

Things then took a turn for the worst. I begun coughing up blood, in significant amounts. At first we thought I'd managed to make a tear in my throat with all the coughing I'd been doing, but as it was beginning to come up dark and mucus-y, something was obviously wrong. I'd later find out that I'd picked up a secondary chest infection on top of the flu, with the two combined being a deadly pairing.

You may be asking, "where were the doctors while all this was happening?" And that's the scariest part. I may as well have had the plague -- having called my local GP and the NHS helpline, local medical staff were being told to avoid direct contact with those infected for fear of spreading the virus, which had apparently been particularly virulent through my corner of East London. Aptly, a pal had spotted me through a window at one point during my illness, which he remembers (with dark fondness) as me looking like "an extra from The Walking Dead". Perhaps my parents shouldn't have been so accepting of that request by the doctors, and rushed me to A&E regardless. I won't fault them -- they cared for me in a way that only your parents can, and felt they were "doing the right thing" by following the rules.

It took my parents visiting a local medical centre (a dedicated pop-up unit had been established specifically for the local swine flu outbreak) in order for me to get a prescription of antibiotics for the chest infection, and Tamiflu for the swine flu. Upon first taking them things seemed to get worse -- I was propped on the toilet, bucket under my nose, wet flannel cooling my flaming forehead, as the symptoms took on an intensity they'd yet reached. It was as if the infection was kicking into a higher gear, trying to combat the effects of the medicine which (saving you the gory details) was looking to flush everything out of my system. Out of every orifice.

Now it's hard for me to offer any scientific support for my belief that Tamiflu helped me turn the corner of my illness -- I was never hospitalised, for the reasons stated above, meaning that there's no doctor-endorsed evidence that the drug worked as it was supposed to. So I can only go by my own experiences and feelings following my having taken the drug. But within a day or two of having taken Tamiflu, my symptoms started to ease, and within a week I was well enough to head down to the Morrissey gig I was determined not to miss.

As a result, I found today's report on the apparent ineffectiveness of Tamiflu troubling -- it made the drug sound more or less like a placebo, offering little more help to those infected than paracetamol would. It's possible that I took the pills towards the end of the natural lifespan of the infection, and that my own immune system had done the hard work. But honestly, I was wiped out before getting access to the drug, and am naturally a weedy bloke to begin with. Either my white blood cells "manned up" for the first time in their lives, or Tamiflu has a curative worth that needs to be defended.

Image Credit: US regulators allow the sale of Tamiflu from Shutterstock.com