The CDC rushed a report this week to physicians instructing them not to use the antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine for treatment of the flu. These drugs are not effective in the treatment of this year’s flu. Last year only 11 percent of flu virus samples were resistant to these drugs. This year 91 percent of virus samples are resistant. This rapid ability of flu viruses to “outsmart” antiviral drugs calls into question the phenomenally expensive government plan to stockpile the drug Tamiflu to treat a predicted and much-feared pandemic of bird flu that jumps the species barrier and breaks out into the human population. That jump from domestic animals to humans has happened in previous flu pandemics, the worst being the devastation of the 1918 flu that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. The government (and pharmaceutical industry) plan is to quickly develop a bird flu vaccine (extremely unlikely) and treat cases with the antiviral drug Tamiflu.
Although it is laudable that officials are paying attention to the possibility of another flu pandemic, their strategy seems wrongheaded and quite possibly ineffective. Flu vaccines don’t work very well to prevent the flu, and the live virus nasal vaccine can cause the flu and be transmitted from the vaccine recipient to others. Despite feverish efforts to develop a bird flu vaccine, any virus mutation that allows the bird flu to transmit itself from one human to another may trigger a rapid spread of disease that is much too fast for manufacturers to develop and produce a vaccine for it. Tamiflu itself has not been terribly effective in the treatment of bird flu, with deaths reported in Vietnam and Turkey despite the use of Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of illness. And there have been several reports of Tamiflu resistant H5N1 bird flu viruses in infected humans (Moscona, 2005).
A much more sensible and probably more effective strategy is to prevent the flu with an immune system tonification strategy using supplements such as zinc, colostrum, adaptogenic mushrooms, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Then if flu symptoms do occur treat them with homeopathy (Oscillococcinum or the indicated flu remedy), a Chinese medicine herbal formula (such as Yin Chiao), large doses of vitamin C, Echinacea, and black elderberry (Sambucol). See my book, FLU: Alternative Treatments and Prevention (North Atlantic Books, 2005) for a more thorough discussion of the holistic approach to flu management.
CDC Recommends against the Use of Amantadine and Rimandatine for the Treatment or Prophylaxis of Influenza in the United States during the 2005–06 Influenza Season. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/han011406.htm
Moscona A, et al. Oseltamivir resistance – disabling our influenza defenses. New England Journal of Medicine (Dec. 22) 2005; 353(25):2633-36.
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