J. D. Heyes
April 10, 2013
Australian researchers are warning that a new type of drug-resistant swine flu virus is already circulating through the general population at large, and is threatening to explode into an incurable global pandemic if new drugs are not developed to kill it.
But is that hype – scare tactics designed to wrest more global compliance and control – or is it a very real threat that could spell doom for perhaps billions of people? That depends in large part how you look at the Australian warning, and how it stacks up against previous reports that have also warned of drug-resistant bacteria strains which are becoming more and more common.
Affecting mostly children and young adults, as well as people with asthma, pregnant women and people with liver and kidney problems, H1N1 swine flu has been in the United States since 2009. The illness has caused some deaths and scores of hospitalizations. Doctors generally treat swine flu with the antivirals Tamiflu and Relenza.
But according to Australian experts, the strain that had already learned how to survive Tamiflu treatment is beginning to emerge outside of hospitals, though cases so far are rare.
Nothing to worry about – yet
Still, what differentiates this particular strain, according to researchers, is that it appears to be “fitter,” or more robust, than other drug-resistant strains, and that means the world should be on the lookout for outbreaks.
The Australian researchers presented their findings and issued their warning during a recent meeting on major infectious diseases, the BBC reported. This conference, the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Society for Infectious Diseases, discussed how the “H1N1pdm09” strain of swine flu virus is still sensitive to treatment with Relenza.
But, they said, the strain no longer responds to Tamiflu and has “been found in people in the community rather than sick patients with serious underlying conditions and weak immune systems,” the British news agency reported.
The scientists said, however, that swine flu vaccines can prevent an infection in the first place, but that form of treatment raises red flags of doubt among an increasing number of people around the world, simply because of the inherent dangers that vaccines present.
“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 resistance and spread worldwide in less than 12 months,” said lead investigator Dr. Aeron Hurt, of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne.
The virus is still rare, but…
This new strain of swine flu that Hurt’s team has been researching is now emerging among people who have not been treated with Tamiflu, which appears to sugges that the virus is adept at spreading between people. In fact, Hurt says animal studies conducted by his team confirm the ease at which the virus spreads.
The Tamiflu-resistant strain is still pretty rare – it only affects some 2 percent of people with swine flu within Australia, among the studied population. Still, Hurt warns that the strain does indeed have the potential to spread globally. What’s more, he says similar resistant strains have been discovered in Europe but that such cases are also rare.
“The widespread transmission and circulation of oseltamivir-resistant H1N1pdm09 viruses remains a risk in the future,” he said. “Close monitoring of resistant viruses in both treated and community patients remains important.”
The potential for a pandemic?
As mentioned earlier, swine flu has been around in the U.S. for about four years, including the Tamiflu-resistant strain.
HealthDay News reported that researchers spotted the first case in the U.S. in 2009, and that it was passed from person to person, “raising the specter that more widespread resistance will render the antiviral drug less useful in combating the pandemic.”
Researchers say they believe swine flu kills about 200,000 people globally in 2009, when it made its debut.
This article was posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 3:58 am