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Fluseless! Paracetamol has no effect on flu

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Taking paracetamol doesn't make you feel better or recover faster when you have the flu, according to new research by New Zealand scientists. They looked at the severity and duration of influenza symptoms, temperatures, and virus concentrations in 80 people who had taken either paracetamol or a placebo - but did not find any difference. Paracetamol is currently recommended for reducing flu fevers and the researchers were concerned that it might actually make the virus thrive, but found that this was not the case.

Journal/conference: Respirology

Organisation/s: Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ), University of Otago, Capital & Coast DHB, Canterbury DHB, Canterbury Health Laboratories

Media Release

From: Medical Research Institute of New Zealand

New Zealand medical researchers report a ‘first ever’ trial of paracetamol for influenza illness in adults

The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) has published the results of what is believed to be a world first randomised placebo controlled trial of the effects of paracetamol on influenza infection.

The study found that there was no difference between the paracetamol and placebo groups with respect to severity or duration of influenza symptoms, temperature, or influenza viral-load, indicating that paracetamol had no beneficial effect.

Dr Irene Braithwaite, a senior investigator for the study said this was an important finding with over 200,000 New Zealanders contracting influenza each year and in some cases having fatal consequences.

 “Often the public is advised during the influenza season that those affected should stay at home, rest, keep up their fluid intake, and take paracetamol.”

She said initially the study had theorised that taking paracetamol might be harmful, as the influenza virus cannot replicate as well at higher temperatures, and by reducing a person’s temperature using paracetamol the virus may have thrived.

“Fortunately this was found not be the case. Paracetamol was neither harmful nor beneficial. We found that it did not significantly reduce temperatures compared to placebo and did not make the participants feel any better.

However, Dr Braithwaite cautioned that a recommendation for or against the use of paracetamol by adults with influenza or influenza-like illness cannot be made based on these results.

“Given the findings it is even more important that those at risk, particularly pregnant women, the very young, the old, and those with chronic medical conditions should have the annual influenza vaccination.

“This may not be fool proof, but it confers the best protection available against the influenza virus.”

The study, which was published today in ‘Respirology’, was the result of a collaboration between the MRINZ and the University of Otago Wellington, Capital & Coast District Health Board, and Canterbury Health Laboratories, and was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The findings are broadly consistent with the MRINZ HRC-funded study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This showed that paracetamol use resulted in neither benefit nor harm in critically ill adults with sepsis in the intensive care unit.


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