Flu Virus Resistance Grows

It’s Suday morning, and I don’t normally feel moved to post on a blog, but this news is disconcerting, and seems to merit the effort:

The US government, for the first time, is urging doctors not to prescribe two antiviral drugs commonly used to fight influenza after discovering that the predominant strain of the virus has built up high levels of resistance to them at alarming speed.”

The drugs which are now virtually worthless are rimantadine and amantadine (with 91% of virus samples now showing resistance). The consequence of this is that stocks of two further drugs will now be used to replace them. And the names of the two new ‘front line’ treatments for routine influenza: Tamiflu and Relenza. Now these two ‘anti-virals’ had been being kept in reserve for use in the case of any H5N1 related outbreak. The consequence of this?

The discovery (of resistance) adds to worries about how to fight bird flu should it start spreading among people. …Now, because of the resistance issue, the newer drugs are being recommended for ordinary flu, increasing the chances that resistance will develop more rapidly to them, too, as they become more commonly used…..

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Julie Gerberding said the agency didn’t know how the resistance occurred, saying it may have been the result of a mutation in the virus or overuse of the drugs abroad, such as in countries that permit the drugs to be purchased without a prescription.

One flu expert, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, said the development was “disconcerting” as flu now has joined the ranks of other diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, that recently have acquired the ability to resist front-line medications.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world and tagged by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “Flu Virus Resistance Grows

  1. Is this the official US language to use in these situations?
    “the virus has built up high levels of resistance to them at alarming speed.” not “the virus has EVOLVED high levels …”
    “the ranks of other diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV, that recently have acquired the ability to resist front-line medications”
    not “….that recently EVOLVED the ability to …”

  2. Does it really make sense to worry about this though? Avian flu and human flu are already separate strains, much less closely related to one another than any strain of human flu is to another. If one develops resistance to antivirals, does it naturally follow that the other will be resistant as well?

  3. “Does it really make sense to worry about this though?”

    Well the thing is Reinder, the goal posts just moved. Next year just became this year. The anti-viral that was ready, just in case, for a new flu cocktail in 2007 (Tamiflu in particular) is now going to be ‘burnt’ in 2006.

    I’m no biologist, but my impression is that if there is eventually a human-to-human version of H5N1 then it will come from someone who already has normal ‘human flu’ catching bird flu and the two ‘mixing’. The conjecture is that this new version would be now more likely to be resistant to Tamiflu than it would otherwise have been. If this idea isn’t valid, then, of course, there would seem to be no reason at all to assume that Tamiflu would be of any help whatsoever in the first place.

    We are not here talking about stopping people catching the thing, but a second line of defence, trying to make the difference between life and death in high risk cases who contract it.

  4. Also, it makes quarantine easier. You can promise people effective help instead of just locking them up for the common good. Which would suggest that confiscation of tamiflu is a good idea so that the government has all reserves.

    Maybe it is time to consider compulsory flu immunisation. Even if you don’t prevent an outbreak, getting some warning time can help to shut down air travel in time and maybe you can delay until a new vaccine is available. So you want the jump into humans to occur elsewhere.

  5. I think the issues reported here are important …

    First of all, I think the dynamics of this case show that the authorities don’t want to push the panic button which is quite understandable. Pushing the panic button in the current stage would entail that the authorities took actions based on a “100 % assumption” that the flu would at some point down the road become capable to perform a human-to-human transfer (the issue obviously is to predict timing and probability). I don’t think that the panic button should be pushed at the current stage … not at all!

    The point is that no-one can say with certainty what it takes before the virus becomes transfereble between humans or if they know they are not telling us. What is clear however, is that the more human cases we have the more is the likelyhood that it will be able to go from human to human in the future.

    So, is this preemptive move to stash and save viruses a sound move. I think it is but Oliver is right when he points that it is also about containing the virus, assuming that an outbreak cannot be prevented. If the virus can build a universal resistance at the rate we are seing none of the vaccines we have will be likely to make a difference … and in that case it is about how and when to push the panic button based on the information which may or may not be going out to the public.

  6. But it is 100% certain that a flu will become capable of human-to-human transfer. And the action they can take is simply not that much.

  7. “or if they know they are not telling us.”

    I think people simply don’t know. Of cousre there are opinions for all tastes, just as there are economics forecasts for all tastes. Scientific knowledge is relatively unrestricted on this level.

    “and in that case it is about how and when to push the panic button based on the information which may or may not be going out to the public.”

    I think this is more to the point. The plans are not necessarily all public. There must be tacit agreement with the main media in each country about how to handle it, and we certainly don’t get precise information about each and every case and each and every strain as they develop. Apart from the fact that, as I am suggesting, the level of uncertainty attached to any prediction is bound to generate a certain confusion.

    When it finally arrives, if it finally arrives, the key question would seem to be quarantine, and the civil liberties issues that this might produce.

Comments are closed.