In the news today is an article about the influenza virus which continues to quote the bogus statistics promulgated by the CDC that 36,000 die every year from the flu (half of those are actually “flu-like illness” which is NOT the flu) and panders idiot advice that everyone should get the flu shot. What’s new is that they point out the fact that the number of flu strains resistant to the bird flu drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is growing. It’s not just that the makers of Tamiflu, Hoffman LaRoche, are my least favorite drug company, but that I have been predicting for over a year that if and when the bird flu became transmitable to humans, that Tamiflu would no longer be effective because the virus would have mutated (see “Bird Flu Drugs are for Bird Brains” if you don’t believe me). The other anti flu drug in this class is Relenza (zanamivir) which is taken in inhaled form.
The most widely prevalent strain of the flu this year, Type A H1N1, is resistant to Tamiflu. Type A H3N2 and Type B are not. H1N1 can be treated with Relenza if patients can tolerate the inhalation method. If not they can take amantadine or rimantidine, but those drugs don’t work against H3N2 flu or type B flu. Giving two drugs increases the side effects of nausea, nervousness and dizziness.
The actual bird flu, H5N1, was found last year to have been developing resistance to Tamiflu last year, as I had originally predicted, when it was reported that although previously less that 1% of influenza viruses were resistant to Tamiflu, that number increased to as many as 13%. The experts were quoted as saying that they were “surprised” that the virus could mutate to a form that is transmitable to humans and still be viable. However as I had previously pointed out in “Bird Flu Drugs are for Bird Brains” , if bird flu mutated to have human to human transmission, bird flu drugs probably wouldn’t work anymore. But of course that didn’t stop the promotional machine from scaring the living daylights out of people and pumping up sales for Tamiflu.
Here’s a little virology 101. Bird flu is transmitted from birds to birds, not birds to humans. Actual human infections are pretty rare. And when and if it does mutate into a virus that can be transmitted to humans, the vaccine probably won’t work anymore. What about for the regular flu? Tamiflu (and Zanamivir) are neuraminidase inhibitors; they prevent replication of influenza A and B viruses by interfering with the production and release of virus from cells that line the respiratory tract. They both need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms to be useful. Although I say “useful” with tongue in cheek; if you get the flu, Tamiflu will reduce the number of days you have symptoms from about seven to about five. Not a very big deal. And in terms of prevention, they cut your risk by about half. I don’t want to take a drug all the time to prevent flu, do you? And if you take it after someone in your house gets sick, it’s too late to prevent the flu.
Not only are drug companies trying get your money, gentle reader, it looks they want to drive you crazy as well. The Japanese drug regulatory agency has reported 64 cases of neuropsychiatric side effects, including “impaired consciousness, abnormal behaviors, hallucinations and other psychological and neurological symptoms” associated with Tamiflu, including two suicides. There have also been reports of seizures. A spokesperson for the manufacturer of Tamiflu, however, denied that there was any association (they always say that—do you ever wonder if they have real people making these comments, or just some virtual online being or avatar or something programmed to say “we see no evidence of an association”)?
[originally posted on beforeyoutakethatpill.com on March 5, 2009]