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Health Officials Urge Limiting Drug Use In Swine Flu Cases

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 9:46 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Protecting Your Family, CDC, Public Health, Influenza A, Swine Flu, Tamiflu, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Relenza


IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons / Tamiflu / author: Shizhao

With swine flu still spreading, global health officials are warning countries to limit use of antiviral drugs, used to treat influenza, to only high-risk patients such as pregnant women and chronically ill patients to ensure adequate supplies.

The new H1N1 (Novel influenza A) virus appears to be slightly more contagious and severe than seasonal influenza. However, drugs should be given to those patients who need them most, in part to keep the drugs working well should the swine flu become more dangerous, said Dr. Nikki Shindo of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Other health officials are concerned that swine flu could mix with other viruses, including H5N1 bird flu, and become worse in the coming months.

The virus has been confirmed in 33 countries with an estimated total of 5,916 cases of swine flu including 3,009 in the 45 U.S. states – 2,282 in Mexico and 358 in Canada.

The death total is currently at 63 – 58 of which were in Mexico, three in the U.S., one in Canada and one in Costa Rica.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC said pregnant women appear especially vulnerable to H1N1 and should get prompt medical treatment.

Pregnancy weakens a woman's immune system, so that she's more likely to suffer pneumonia when she catches the flu. In earlier flu pandemics, infection also increased the risk of a premature birth, said Schuchat.

Also, pregnant women with asthma and other health conditions are particularly at risk for complications.

The effects of the antiviral drugs on the fetus are not completely known. But health officials say risks from the virus are greater than the unknown risk to the fetus from Relenza and Tamiflu, said Dr. Schuchat.

"We really want to spread the word out about the likely benefits of prompt antiviral treatment" for pregnant women, she said. CDC officials recommend Tamiflu for pregnant women.

Tamiflu maker, Roche AG, is donating 5.65 million packets of the drug, known generically as oseltamivir, to WHO, to replenish stockpiles deployed against the H1N1 outbreak.

The other drug recommended for use against H1N1 is GlaxoSmithKline’s drug Relenza (zanamivir).

Within the next year, the swine flu may affect at least one-third of the world’s 6 billion people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The overall severity of a pandemic is influenced by the propensity of pandemics to encircle the globe in two, sometimes three waves,” WHO said in a statement.

CDC officials worry that the virus will mutate into something more dangerous. One concern is that it will combine with the more deadly but less easily spread bird flu virus that has been circulating in other parts of the world.

Another concern is that it will combine with the seasonal H1N1 virus that went around over the winter. That virus was not unusually virulent, but it was resistant to Tamiflu – the current first-line defense against the new swine flu. If the two virus strains combine, it’s possible the swine flu will become resistant to Tamiflu as well, health officials worry. #

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