CBS News' Elizabeth Kaledin reports on a new controversial drug.
Relenza is the first in a new generation of prescription flu-fighting drugs that hits pharmacy shelves Friday. If it is inhaled right after diagnosis, the flu symptoms are significantly weakened, studies have shown.
"This drug when used for treatment will shorten the duration of influenza illness by a day or two. It gets people back on their feet more quickly and back to their usual activities," says Dr. Frederick Hayden of the University of Virginia.
Research also suggests the drug can protect family members from infecting one another.
Most winters flu spreads through the Berberich household like wildfire. "With a family of five like this it can run into weeks into months until we've outlived some version of the flu," says Debbie Berberich.
But when they all took the Relenza during clinical trials, daughter Hannah's full-blown flu turned out to be only a case of the sniffles for her older sister.
"Usually I'll be sick for seven to 10 days at a time. This reduced it like that!" says older sister Madeleine.
Does it sound too good to be true? Dr. Edwin Kilbourne of New York Medical College says it is. He was on an Food and Drug Administration advisory panel that voted 13 to 4 against approving Relenza, saying studies didn't back up the claims.
"I think the drug was really introduced prematurely. I think more research should have been done," says Kilbourne.
Now it will be up to the estimated 20 to 50 million flu sufferers every year to determine if it really works. A competitor, the anti-flu pill called Tamiflu, is also expected to be approved soon.
One thing the makers of Relenza and its counterparts are not claiming yet is that they can actually prevent the flu. For that, you still need a flu shot, doctors say.
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