Text Size: a  |   a 

Allergy Medicine Fails To Reduce Flu-Like Syndrome In RRMS Patients

July 19, 2017

Cetirizine, an over-the-counter allergy medicine, failed to alleviate a flu-like condition that interferon-beta treatment generates in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Cetirizine is sold under the brand names Zirtec, Zyrtec, Reactine, and Triz. The study was published in the journal PLOS|One. Its title is “Management of flu-like syndrome with cetirizine in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis during therapy with interferon beta: Results of a randomized, cross-over, placebo-controlled pilot study.” The pilot clinical trial (2013-001055-12) is known as Flu-LIGHT, for Flu-Like Inhibition Giving anti-Histamine Therapy.

FLS, or flu-like syndrome, affects about 75% of patients who take interferon-beta, also known as IFN-beta. It can cause fever, chills, muscle pain, weakness, and headache. Although FLS usually subsides in the first three months of IFN-beta therapy, it persists in some patients, causing them to miss doses or even discontinue the treatment. The purpose of the pilot was to determine whether cetirizine could alleviate RRMS patients’ FLS. The study consisted of 39 RRMS patients who had received IFN-beta for at least three months and a standard therapy for FLS that had failed to stop the condition. The therapy was either acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer, or a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug.

The patients were divided into two groups: Group 1 received four weeks of standard therapy for FLS plus a placebo, followed by four weeks of standard therapy plus cetirizine. Group 2 received cetirizine plus standard therapy for four weeks, and then a placebo. Patients then did self-assessments of how much discomfort their FLS caused them. There were no significant changes in the two groups’ average self-assessment scores at four and eight weeks of treatment, suggesting that cetirizine does not offer significant benefits to RRMS patients with FLS.

“The addition of a [cetirizine] to the standard of care for IFNβ-induced FLS in patients with RRMS does not seem to improve symptoms significantly compared with placebo,” the team wrote. “FLS continues to be inadequately treated in many RRMS patients. Further investigations are needed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of IFNβ-induced FLS and develop adequate strategies for prevention and treatment.”