Overuse of Antivirals Could Make H1N1 Pandemic Even Worse

Already, a handful of cases of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 have been reported this summer, and there is no shortage of examples of misuse of the antiviral medications, experts say.

People often fail to complete a full course of the drug, according to a recent British report — a scenario also likely to be occurring in the United States and one that encourages resistance. Stockpiling is rife, and some US summer camps have given Tamiflu prophylactically to healthy kids and staff, and have even told campers to bring the drug to camp. Experts anticipate more problems in the fall as children return to school and normal flu season draws nearer.

"Influenza viruses mutate frequently and any viral resistance could be acquired easily," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center on Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "It won’t surprise us if we see resistance emerge as a bigger problem in the fall or in the years ahead."

Prescribed in pill form, Tamiflu (oseltamivir) works by preventing the flu virus from leaving infected cells and spreading to new ones. Because a vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza will not be widely available for several months, Tamiflu and to a lesser extent Relenza (zanamivir), an antiviral that acts similarly, are key medical tools for fighting the pandemic in the meantime.

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