The National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies places pandemic influenza at the top of the most significant civil emergency risks.
Although there has been much research into how to prevent and treat flu during seasonal outbreaks, there is very limited evidence from flu epidemics and pandemics.
In this context, the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Sciences were asked to review recent analysis of the evidence for the treatment and prevention of influenza using two common antiviral drugs, consider possible future treatments and define research priorities.
Their results are published today in the report Use of neuraminidase inhibitors in influenza.
The group of experts found most benefits in the use of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza lay in shortening the symptoms of influenza when treatment started within 48 hours and in reducing deaths in patients hospitalised with influenza.
However they concluded that benefits are unlikely to outweigh the risks of side-effects. when antivirals are used in previously healthy patients with seasonal flu as, unless the flu strain is particularly severe or the individual is very ill.
Most importantly, given the current lack of evidence, the group recommended that plans are made to make sure that we can learn from any future outbreak, whether of seasonal flu or in a pandemic. This could be done by pre-agreeing protocols and by readying the research infrastructure so that trials can start as soon as a pandemic begins.
The report was launched with a press briefing at the Science Media Centre (SMC).