New approach to flu treatment developed by researchers
Article date: 21 July 2014
It is hoped that new influenza drugs that target the patient's immune system instead of the virus itself will prove to be effective in reducing the severity of the illness.
Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, have had their findings published in the Journal of Virology, having already identified six potential treatments for the H7N9 strain, which is a highly virulent variation.
Firstly, the scientists set out to characterise the body's response to the infection and compare it to its reaction to similar serious strains, which involved gaining an understanding of the genes that were turned on when the virus found its way into the system.
Report coauthor Michael Katze said: "We have found that viruses that cause severe illness, like H7N9 and the infamous 1918 virus, trigger gene expression signatures that are different from the signatures seen in milder infections."
He noted the exploitation of these signatures was key to being able to manufacture new antiviral drugs to tackle the illness.
Juliet Morrison, from the University of Washington, Seattle, explained how using a computational approach to search through databases for potentially helpful therapies allowed them to identify an innovative method of dulling the effects of the strain by dampening the host response.
It is hoped the breakthrough will allow experts to gain a better understanding of how to treat severe influenza.
According to official figures, around 600 people die every year as a result of complications during a bout of the flu virus, while this number rises to 13,000 when there is an epidemic.
Those who are most at risk include people aged over 65, young children, healthcare workers, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women.
For the majority, the best remedy is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and self-medicate with ibuprofen or paracetamol.