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New Concerns Rise Over Bird Flu H7N9 Drug Resistance

Update Date: May 28, 2013 11:21 AM EDT

Although the current bird flu, H7N9, continues to be confined to China with no evidence of human-to-human transfer of the infection, health experts are concerned about the potential threat of a pandemic. In the latest news surrounding the bird flu, doctors in China have reported that the virus appears to be resistant to Tamiflu, an antiviral drug manufactured by Roche. According to the doctors, three out of 14 patients that are being cared for at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center could not be treated with the drug effectively and remain severely ill.

The researchers are now worried about how quickly the virus adapted and evolved, stating in their paper that the virus' resistance to the drug seemed to have occurred with "apparent ease." The doctors were treating all 14 patients who were afflicted with pneumonia and needed ventilation in order to live. The doctors administered antivirals, which helped relieve some of the symptoms of the virus in all patients but three. After performing genetic testing, the researchers discovered that the H7N9 virus had mutated in those three patients and was now resistant to the antivirals. In one of the three patients, the researchers believe that the resistance developed after the patient was given Tamiflu. This finding suggests that the drug could act as a trigger for the development of drug resistance.

"The apparent ease with which antiviral resistance emerges in H7N9 viruses is concerning, it needs to be closely monitored and considered in future pandemic response plans," the researchers stated, according to BBC. Tamiflu is a part of the family of medicines called neuraminidase inhibitors, which are the only known treatment options for the bird flu.

H7N9 has already infected 131 people with 36 fatalities. The last confirmed case of an infection was over two weeks ago on May 8. Even though the infection does not appear to be spreading rapidly, the researchers and health officials have been closely monitoring the flu.

The paper was published in The Lancet

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