Taking paracetamol to ease the flu has no benefit, says a new study. Contrary to official NHS advice, the popular drug neither reduces fever nor other symptoms like aches and pains.
Paracetamol is a key ingredient in a host of cold and flu remedies. But academics found no significant difference in body temperature between 40 flu sufferers given paracetamol for five days and 40 given dummy pills. Neither was there any difference in how ill people in each group felt.
The study by New Zealand medics is the first ‘gold standard’ randomised controlled trial to pit paracetamol against a placebo pill.
Dr Irene Braithwaite, of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, said: ‘We initially 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 the virus may have thrived. ‘Fortunately this was found not to be the case.’
Their concerns were prompted by studies in animals exposed to flu, which showed that those given paracetamol and other fever-controlling drugs were more likely to die from the virus.
Dr Braithwaite said: ‘In this study, paracetamol was not harmful, but we also found that paracetamol was not beneficial either.’
Official advice on the NHS Choices website recommends people with flu take paracetamol. It states: ‘If you feel unwell and have a fever, you can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches.’
Dr Tim Ballard, vice-chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘This is just one study – there will be many others that suggest paracetamol is a very effective drug at easing pain and controlling fevers in our patients and, as long as it is taken as recommended, this is backed up with what we find with our patients suffering from flu.
‘However, this is something to be watched with interest and it would be particularly fascinating to see a similar study looking into treating children, where the placebo effect would be more difficult to explain.’
The researchers did admit their study had flaws which could have clouded the picture. All volunteers were given the powerful anti-flu drug Tamiflu, because of safety protocols, which might have reduced their ability to detect differences between the two groups.
And, despite randomly assigning the volunteers, the ‘placebo group’ had more people with chronic respiratory problems.
Source: Mail Online