Font Size

Bird Flu (cont.)

Medications for Bird Flu

Antiviral Medications

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 this viral infection.

Vaccine Development

A vaccine has been developed and approved by the FDA to protect humans against the H5N1 bird flu virus, although it is not available to the public at this time because the U.S. population has not experienced any bird flu outbreaks. It is unlikely that the H5N1 vaccine will offer protection against H7N9 bird flu. There is some concern that the inactivated viral vaccine preparation (killed H5N1 viruses) may not be as effective as predicted if the virus continues to mutate. The standard flu vaccine developed each year does not protect against these strains of bird flu.

Researchers are currently developing new ways to create flu vaccines that can be rapidly prepared and may give people immunity to a wide range of influenza viruses; these new vaccines (some based on the conserved internal viral proteins) may be available in a few years. A 2013 publication on bird flu vaccine development showed some success in protecting research animals against viruses by immunizing with the N9 antigen, but it has not been tried in humans.

New and more rapid vaccine development is becoming available; the FDA recently approved (January 2013) a recombinant vaccine (Flublok) for treating seasonal influenza that does not use the tedious and time-consuming egg inoculation method for preparation of the vaccine. In the very near future, even with H7N9, researchers may be able to produce a safe and effective vaccine very quickly in large amounts that can be administered if needed to large populations.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/31/2015

Must Read Articles Related to Bird Flu

Coughs A cough is a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. A chronic or persistent cough may signal certain lung conditions that should be evaluated by a healt...learn more >>
Fever (in Adults)
Fever in Adults A fever is a body temperature of 100.4 F or greater. A fever/...learn more >>
Fever in Children
Fever in Children Fever is defined as a rectal temperature over 100.4 F or 38 C. Fever isn't life-threatening unless it is persistently high -- greater than a 107 F rectal temper...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Bird Flu (Avian Influenza):

Bird Flu - Symptoms

Please describe your experience with bird flu symptoms

Bird Flu - Prevention

What prevention measures do you use to avoid getting a bird flu disease?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Avian Flu »

Influenza viruses rank among the most common causes of respiratory tract infection worldwide, causing a mean of 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary