Tamiflu No-Go, Again
Like a recording that skips, the CDC has once again conceded that the main pharmaceutical line of defense against influenza has proven useless against this year's strains of disease. The antiviral drug Tamiflu has a long record of failure, but this one is the grandest of all, with a 99 percent resistance rate against virtually all prevalent flu strains. Tamiflu is supposed to help alleviate flu symptoms after the disease has set in, unlike the flu shot, which is supposed to prevent you from getting the flu.
"It's quite shocking," said Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, who directs infection control at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "We've never lost an antimicrobial this fast. It blew me away."
But while experts like Dr. Septkowitz were flabbergasted at the news of Tamiflu's failure, long-time readers visitors to this website may experience an "I told you so" moment. In fact, in my blog of February 8, 2008, I wrote, "I hate to say, 'I told you so,' but from my perspective, increasing resistance to Tamiflu is as predictable as rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles." Even earlier, in 2005, I predicted the ultimate failure of antivirals like Tamiflu because of their one-dimensional approach to wiping out pathogens.
As I've explained previously, "...viruses and bacteria are very simple structures that can mutate easily. Antibiotics and antivirals work by attacking a single structure in the pathogen, leaving the rest of the pathogen intact." Those viruses with natural resistance to the drug manage to survive the assault...and then replicate without constraint. It's a process of natural selection accompanied by optimum growth potential. Antibiotics and antivirals literally "breed" the strains of viruses and bacteria that are most resistant to them. In addition, those viruses and bacteria can then mutate to become even more resistant, creating super strains of the pathogens that ultimately render the drug completely useless.
According to the report, last year's H1N1 strain of flu developed an 11 percent resistance to Tamiflu -- enough to alarm the medical community. But this year, spontaneous mutations have caused the H1N1 virus to become virtually impervious to the effects of the drug -- causing widespread concern among medical practitioners who depend on the drug as their best, and in many cases, only weapon against the flu.
Although other antivirals do exist, the front-runner, Relenza, causes serious side effects, including lung spasms, disorientation, and suicidal ideation. It's also hard to ingest as it comes in powdered form, and it isn't recommended for children. There's an older drug, rimantadine, which at one time was the drug of choice, but as with Tamiflu, the strains of flu prevalent at the time developed resistance. Oddly, rimantadine seems to work somewhat against the current flu strains, and so now doctors are recommending a combination of Tamiflu and rimantadine. The problem here is that it's a total crapshoot whether or not the combo will work, and meanwhile, the patient runs double the risk for experiencing the side effects that come with these drugs, including nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, dizziness, breathing problems, respiratory infection, headache, increased risk of kidney and liver disease, severe allergic reactions, and psychiatric symptoms.
Because it's been a light flu season so far this year, panic hasn't set in, but physicians have voiced concern that if Tamiflu isn't working against the H1N1 strain, it may also stop working against bird flu. In addition, they note that it's early enough in the season that a more dramatic outbreak could still occur, and so, according to most in the medical establishment, you should rush out and get a flu shot in order to avoid getting influenza in the first place.
"If you are really worried about the flu, vaccination [by the flu shot] is the best option," said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, of the Seattle Department of Public Health. But though the public health establishment insists that the flu shot is a good thing for all kids over age six months, all adults over age 50, as well as for pregnant women and those with weak immune systems, I've written before about the overblown claims in this regard. The CDC says that this year, the vaccine is a good match for the flu, but in the past, its effectiveness has been marginal at best, and potentially dangerous side effects include severe headaches, fatal allergic reactions, and Guillain-Barr Syndrome. And when it comes right down to it, it doesn't necessarily work all that well even when it is a good match.
So what should you do to protect yourself? Your best bet is to take natural antivirals that attack pathogens on many fronts. As I've written before, naturally occurring organic compounds have a complex chemical composition that may consist of over 100 components (as with garlic), unlike one-dimensional pharmaceuticals that target a single weakness in a pathogen, which provides an easy bypass for mutation. Because of their complex structure, natural agents can attack pathogens on multiple fronts at once, while at the same time providing no opportunity for the pathogens to mutate around them because of their complexity.
Meanwhile, some in the medical community seem to have twigged the concept and are essentially headed in the right direction, though they're moving in the wrong vehicle. For instance, Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health commented, "The bottom line is that we should have more antiviral drugs. And we should be looking into multidrug combinations." He's right about the need to create complex, multidimensional attacks on pathogens -- but why do it using side-effect laden pharmaceuticals when you can instead take natural substances that do the job more effectively and with far greater complexity? See my blog of February 8, 2008, for specific recommendations.