The World Health Organization says a small but significantnumber of people in Europe, Canada and the United Statesare getting a mutant influenza virus. Houston Public Radio’sRod Rice reports those findings are confirmed here in Houston.
The mutant flu virus is troublesome because it is resistant to the anti-flu drug Tamiflu. The WHO says while this is a global concern, it is not yet seen as a global problem. Dr. Jeff Kalina is the Associate Medical Director of the Emergency Department at The Methodist Hospital.
“It is a global concern but I don’t know if it’s a need for panic. Because, quite frankly, before Tamiflu the flu was managed symptomatically, just like it is in the majority of people these days.”
Tamiflu is very affective if given at the first sign of flu.
“We normally like to start Tamiflu within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms and we’ve seen a very small percent of people are totally not reacting whatsoever to the Tamiflu.”
Dr. Kalina says he’s talking about three to four percent of patients. And, he says this isn’t the only thing that marks this flu season.
“For the last few years we’ve had pretty mild flu seasons and what we’ve seen this year has been a very, very late peak. We’re seeing patients that getting flu at the end of the flu season as opposed to the middle or the beginning. The flu that we’re seeing is atypical in that normally a person with flu is sick for a week, maybe ten days at the outset, but we’re seeing people that are sick for two plus weeks with classic flu symptoms. And we’re also seeing people who had the flu more than once in a season.”
Dr. Kalina clarifies that perhaps both incidents were not the flu, but both were viral upper resperatory infections that are longer lasting than typical but classic for flu.
He says this mutant flu is not worse than typical flu and there no indication it is more deadly. But just being resistant to Tamiflu is enough for health officials to note it. Because while most of us don’t treat flu symptoms early enough for Tamiflu to help, many more would react sooner if there was an influenza epidemic and if that virus were drug resistant there would be a real problem.
“We’re no where near that panic state, we’re no where near that concern. This is just something to watch and observe. The question is this resistance rate really significantly greater than it has been in flu seasons in the past.”
Two final things to note, flu vaccine does protect against the mutant flu and the use of Tamiflu itself doesn’t appear to be linked to the mutation because Tamiflu is used more widely in Japan than it is elsewhere and the mutant virus has been shown up there.