Drug resistant superflu in Britain
The potent virus, which is more likely to trigger serious complications in patients, is a strain of the previously known H1N1 influenza virus, but cannot be treated with the most common flu drug, Tamiflu.
Scientists have found that the strain is three times more likely to cause pneumonia in patients than the normal strain, making it more deadly.
Some patients in Britain have already become infected with the drug-resistant H1N1 virus, but the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that it was seeing only a very small number of cases.
The recent study, completed by researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the HPA, found that, in addition to the heightened possibility of pneumonia, twice as many flu patients with the drug-resistant strain developed inflamed sinuses.
“Resistance in a more virulent influenza virus can have serious public health implications,” Siri Hauge, who led the study, said.
Fewer treatment options and a more severe form of the virus can result in “more severe illness and death in those who become infected’, she warned.
“These findings should be taken into consideration when shaping future strategies for treating and preventing seasonal and pandemic influenza.”
Flu kills thousands of people in Britain every year, particularly the elderly who struggle to fight off secondary infections like pneumonia. Most flu cases in Britain, around 90 per cent, are caused by the H3 strain of the the virus.
Tamiflu is an anti-viral treatment that has been stockpiled by the Government in case of a flu pandemic. The new strain can, however, be treated by other, less common flu drugs.
A spokesman for the HPA said: “We are seeing very, very small numbers of cases of this [drug-resistant H1N1] strain of flu.
“We are also monitoring cases and from our surveillance have no evidence at the moment that it is any more virulant than was previously thought.”
The resistant strain of H1N1 was first seen in significant numbers during last year’s flu season. A variant of the same virus caused the Spanish flu outbreak that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide in 1918.
The research, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, studied 300 people in Norway who suffered from the virus last year.
Earlier this week health officials warned that another deadly type of influenza, H3N2 Brisbane 10, was affecting Britain.
That strain caused the death of six children and was responsible for a three fold rise in the usual number of cases of flu in Australia last year.