Bird Flu (cont.)

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What is the treatment for bird flu?

Scientists are hopeful that antiviral medicines like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) might be effective against bird flu complications, but not enough information is currently available to confirm this. Another drug called zanamivir (Relenza) shows promise in the lab but has not been widely used in human cases of bird flu. Oseltamivir and zanamivir are types of medications called "neuraminidase inhibitors." Side effects include nausea, vomiting, and sometimes nervousness. Zanamivir is an inhaled drug and may make asthma worse. Oseltamivir is given as a pill. Some strains of the bird flu have shown resistance to neuraminidase inhibitors, and clinicians may consider adding another drug like ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol) or amantadine (Symmetrel) in these cases.

Oseltamivir and zanamivir are only available by prescription. If a pandemic occurs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may authorize distribution of antiviral medications directly to the public. Treatment should begin as soon as possible after symptoms start.

There is not enough experience to date with these drugs in treatment of H7N9 to know what effect, if any, they will have on the viral infection; however, the CDC currently suggests that for both H5N1 and H7N9 antivirals be given to patients.

Most individual patients are hospitalized and the majority will need supportive care, often in an ICU/critical-care setting and need assisted breathing (intubation); even with such help, the prognosis is still guarded to poor as only about 40% survive the infection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/10/2014

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