Immediate treatment only hope for AI victims

15-09-2006 | |

Bird flu affects its victims in a similar way to the 1918 flu pandemic, and immediate treatment with antiviral drugs is crucial to prevent fatalities, according to research undertaken at Oxford University.

The researchers say that avian influenza kills its human victims by drowning them in fluids produced in their own lungs, much like the Spanish flu did.
They say that the virus reproduces so quickly that if antiviral treatment is not administered within 48 hours, victims are pushed into a rapid decline to death.
“The paradigm ‘hit hard and hit early’ probably is very true for H5N1 influenza,” said Dr Menno D de Jong, an Oxford University virologist and the study’s lead author.
Dr Anne Moscona, a professor of pediatrics and immunology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, called the research a ‘major advance’, because so little clinical information had previously been gleaned from the 241 known cases of the disease.
Dr de Jong also said that the human body’s own immune response, called the ‘cykotine storm’, contributed to the damage, and that doctors should also consider providing anti-inflammatory drugs along with antivirals. The cykotine storm is a result of the body sending white blood cells to target chemical invaders in the lungs. But when this happens too vigorously, it can flood the lungs, causing deadly pneumonia.
The researchers also found that avian flu virus was easier to detect in throat swabs than in nasal swabs, Dr de Jong said, and that the virus was found in rectal swabs, means that diarrhoea, common among flu patients, can also spread the disease.
This study appears in the October issue of Nature Medicine.