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The value of neuraminidase inhibitors (NAIs) in reducing severe clinical outcomes from influenza is debated. A clinical trial to generate better evidence is desirable. However, it is unknown whether UK clinicians would support a placebo-controlled trial. A survey was conducted to determine the attitude of clinicians towards a clinical trial and their current practice in managing adults admitted to hospital with suspected influenza.
Senior clinicians (n = 50) across the UK actively involved in the care of patients hospitalised with severe respiratory infections and/or respiratory infection research were invited to participate in an on-line survey. Participants were asked their opinion on the evidence for benefit of NAIs in influenza, their current practice in relation to: a) testing for influenza; b) treating empirically with NAIs; and c) when influenza infection is virolologically confirmed, prescribing NAIs.
Thirty-five (70%) of 50 clinicians completed the survey. Respondents were drawn mainly from infectious diseases, intensive care and respiratory medicine. Only 11 (31%) of 35 respondents agreed that NAIs are effective at reducing influenza mortality; 14 (40%) disagreed, 10 (28.6%) neither agreed nor disagreed. When managing adults admitted to non-ICU wards with a respiratory infection during an influenza season, 15 (51.7%) clinicians indicated they would usually perform a test for influenza in greater than 60% of patients but only 9 (31%) would treat empirically with NAIs in greater than 60% of patients. Few clinicians would either test or empirically treat patients presenting with other (non-respiratory infection related) diagnoses. If influenza infection is confirmed, 17 (64.5%) clinicians would prescribe NAIs in greater than 80% of patients with a respiratory infection treated on non-ICU wards Thirty-one (89%) clinicians agreed that a placebo-controlled clinical trial should be conducted and 29 (85%) would participate in such a trial.
There is strong support from UK clinicians for a placebo-controlled trial of NAI treatment in adults hospitalised with suspected influenza. Current variation in medical opinion and clinical practice demonstrates collective equipoise, supporting ethical justification for a trial. Low use of NAIs in the UK suggests randomisation of treatment would not substantially divert patients towards placebo.