H1N1 Swine flu is thought to have killed 200,000 people globally and Australian experts are concerned that the disease now has much more potent pandemic potential than it had before.
Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is now powerless against the strain H1N1pdm09 that has been found in people in the community rather than sick patients with serious underlying conditions and weak immune systems. Zanamivir (Relenza) still has some effect but it is not widely held in stock in the community or in hospitals.
Lead investigator Dr Aeron Hurt, from the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, said:
“The greatest concern is that these resistant viruses could spread globally, similar to that seen in 2008 when the former seasonal H1N1 virus developed oseltamivir (Tamiflu) resistance and spread worldwide in less than 12 months.”
The new strain is emerging in people who have never been treated with Tamiflu, suggesting it is very good at spreading person to person taking its resistant properties with it.
Usually Tamiflu resistance occurs when of people have been given the drug to treat their symptoms. There are real concerns that it could go global and with Relenza not being available in large quantities it’s anyones guess what the outcome would be.
Just weeks before the flu seasons starts in the southern hemisphere, new Australian research reveals one in five cases of swine flu in one area in 2011 were resistant to the antiviral medicine.
Dr Aeron Hurt from the World Health Organisation collaborating centre for flu research in Melbourne, says the bug appears more prone than other types of flu to developing drug resistance.
And he warns access to anti-viral treatments may have to be restricted to limit further resistance developing.
“In most flu viruses, the changes that make the virus resistant to treatment also make it less likely to spread to others. With swine flu, this has not happened and the virus remains fit enough to spread to others” Dr Hurt said.
Research on patients in Newcastle NSW in 2011 found just one person in the area had used Tamiflu but the resistant form of the virus spread to 20 per cent of all those who developed swine flu in that region. Dr Hurt continued:
“Widespread transmission of a fit resistant strain is of significant public health concern.The development of resistance to these drugs reduces the options for treating seriously ill patients,”
The only way to combat the growth of drug resistant strain of the virus is to save medicines for the most needy cases he said, stressing that he is not qualified to say who should get access to the medicine.
Research on the 2009 swine flu outbreak found pregnant women children aged under 5, those aged over 65 and those with significant illnesses are most at risk from swine flu. Early flu activity in Queensland this year has shown swine flu is the predominant strain. The flu season in Australia runs from May to October.
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Contributed by Chris Carrington of The Daily Sheeple.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple. Wake the flock up!