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Bird Flu (cont.)

What Medications Treat Bird Flu?

Antiviral Medications

Scientists are hopeful that antiviral medicines like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) might be effective against bird flu in humans. Another drug called zanamivir (Relenza) shows promise in the lab but has not been widely used in human cases of bird flu. Oseltamivir, peramivir, 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 while peramivir is given intravenously. 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, zanamivir, and peramivir are only available by prescription and are recommended by the CDC for treatment of bird flu in humans. If a pandemic occurs, the CDC may authorize distribution of antiviral medications directly to the public. Treatment should begin as soon as possible after symptoms start; if bird flu is suspected, the CDC recommends treatment be started immediately.

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.

Health 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 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 12/19/2016

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