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Dec. 11, 2013 — Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reported that a virulent new strain of influenza -- the virus that causes the flu -- appears to retain its ability to cause serious disease in humans even after it develops resistance to antiviral medications.
Initial reports suggested that H7N9, an avian strain of influenza A that emerged in China last spring, could rapidly develop a mutation that made it resistant to treatment with the antiviral medication Tamiflu (oseltamivir). However, patients in whom drug resistance developed often had prolonged, severe infections and poor clinical outcomes. No vaccine is currently available to prevent H7N9, which infected at least 135 people and caused 44 deaths during the outbreak.
In the absence of a vaccine, antiviral drugs are the only means of defense for patients who are infected with new strains of the flu.
Specifically, the investigators found that a drug-resistant H7N9 virus retained its ability to replicate in human respiratory cells.
"Our study underscores the need to develop a bigger arsenal of antiviral drugs and vaccines, which will allow us to outsmart the influenza virus," said Dr. Bouvier. "Researchers at Mount Sinai are actively engaged in identifying new targets for drug therapy and are working to develop a universal vaccine that will prevent multiple strains of influenza."