Hedging against Antiviral Resistance during the Next Influenza Pandemic Using Small Stockpiles of an Alternative Chemotherapy

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Citation: Joseph T. Wu, Gabriel M. Leung, Marc Lipsitch, Ben S. Cooper, Steven Riley (2009/05) Hedging against Antiviral Resistance during the Next Influenza Pandemic Using Small Stockpiles of an Alternative Chemotherapy. PLoS Med (Volume 6) (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000085
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000085
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000085
Internet Archive Scholar (fulltext): Hedging against Antiviral Resistance during the Next Influenza Pandemic Using Small Stockpiles of an Alternative Chemotherapy
Download: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000085
Tagged: Medicine (RSS) influenza (RSS), public health (RSS)

Summary (Abstract)

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Background

Every winter, millions of people catch influenza—a viral infection of the airways—and about half a million people die as a result. These seasonal “epidemics” occur because small but frequent changes in the viral proteins (antigens) to which the human immune system responds mean that an immune response produced one year provides only partial protection against influenza the next year. Influenza viruses also occasionally appear that contain major antigenic changes. Human populations have little or no immunity to such viruses so they can start deadly pandemics (global epidemics). The 1918–19 influenza pandemic, for example, killed 40–50 million people. The last influenza pandemic was in 1968 and many experts fear the next pandemic might strike soon. To prepare for such an eventuality, scientists are trying to develop vaccines that might work against an emerging pandemic influenza virus. In addition, many governments are stockpiling antiviral drugs for the large-scale treatment of influenza and for targeted prophylaxis (prevention). Antiviral drugs prevent the replication of the influenza virus, thereby shortening the length of time that an infected person is ill and protecting uninfected people against infection. Their widespread use should, therefore, slow the spread of pandemic influenza.

Why Was This Study Done?

Although some countries are stockpiling more than one antiviral drug in preparation for an influenza pandemic, many countries are investing in large stockpiles of a single drug, oseltamivir (Tamiflu). But influenza viruses can become resistant to antiviral drugs and the widespread use of a single drug (the primary antiviral) is likely to increase the risk that a resistant strain will emerge. If this did happen, the ability of antiviral drugs to slow the spread of a pandemic would be greatly reduced. In this study, the researchers use a mathematical model of influenza transmission to investigate whether a small stockpile of a secondary antiviral drug could be used to prevent the adverse consequences of the emergence of antiviral-resistant pandemic influenza viruses.

What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

The researchers used their model of influenza transmission to predict how two strategies for the use of a small stockpile of a secondary antiviral might affect the cumulative attack rate (AR; the final proportion of the population infected) and the resistant attack rate (RAR; the proportion of the population infected with an influenza virus strain resistant to the primary drug, a measure that may reflect the impact of antiviral resistance on death rates during a pandemic). In a large, closed population, the model predicted that both “early combination chemotherapy” (treatment with both drugs together while both are available) and “sequential multi-drug chemotherapy” (treatment with the secondary drug until it is exhausted, then treatment with the primary drug) would reduce the AR and the RAR compared with monotherapy unless the probability of emergence of resistance to the primary drug was very low (resistance rarely occurred) or very high (resistance emerged as soon as the primary drug was used). The researchers then introduced international travel data into their model to investigate whether these two strategies could limit the development of antiviral resistance at a global scale. This analysis predicted that, provided the population that was the main source of resistant strains used one of the strategies, both strategies in distant, subsequently affected populations would be able to reduce the AR and RAR even if some intermediate populations failed to control resistance.

What Do These Findings Mean?

As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these predictions depends on the assumptions used to build the model and the data fed into it. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that both of the proposed strategies for the use of small stockpiles of secondary antiviral drugs should limit the spread of drug-resistant influenza virus more effectively than monotherapy with the primary antiviral drug. Thus, small stockpiles of secondary antivirals could provide a hedge against the development of antiviral resistance during the early phases of an influenza pandemic and are predicted to be a worthwhile public-health investment. However, note the researchers, experimental studies—including determinations of which drugs are safe to use together, and how effectively a given combination prevents resistance compared with each drug used alone—are now needed to decide which of the strategies to recommend in real-life situations. In the context of the 2009 global spread of swine flu, these findings suggest that public health officials might consider zanamivir (Relenza) as the secondary antiviral drug for resistance-limiting strategies in countries that have stockpiled oseltamivir.

The original author of this summary is PLOS Medicine. It is republished on AcaWiki under the Creative Commons Attribution license. http://www.plosmedicine.org/

This was published in an open access journal.