A New Medicine For The Flu

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As the season of winter slowly makes its way towards us, another dreaded season is arriving as well -- the flu season.

A new flu drug is headed to the market just in time for the season of sniffles and sneezes and was very recently approved by the FDA.

The drug, known by the name of Xofluza, is expected to be more effective than Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine used to treat the flu today. It is the first new flu drug to be approved by the FDA in 20 years. 

Flu: Don't Take It Lightly

The flu, short for influenza, is an infection that targets one’s respiratory system. The beginning symptoms of the flu may seem harmless, but certain groups of people have a high risk of developing complications. These people include children under the age of 5, seniors over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

The flu virus is transmitted through air, as well as through contact with an item or an individual. Our body's immune system is the primary defense mechanism -- it produces chemicals that signal the white blood cells (cells that fight infections) to destroy the invading viruses and the affected cells. The symptoms that you may feel when you have the flu, including a runny nose, sore throat, and high temperature are the effects of the immune system fighting the flu.

When the flu virus infects the lungs and causes inflammation, bacteria can invade the lungs. This can lead to bacterial pneumonia and difficulty in breathing, which can be fatal. Additionally, another fatal complication is sepsis, which leads to organ failure.

Last year, the flu outbreak was particularly severe because of the deadly H3N2 strain of the virus. More than 80,000 people died from flu-related illnesses -- the highest in 40 years.  

How The New Drug Works

When viruses attack our bodies, they hijack healthy cells and use its resources to make copies of themselves. A protein allows these replicated viruses to exit the cell and spread the infection to other healthy cells. 

Current antiviral drugs like Tamiflu block this protein that allows the virus copies to exit the cell. But Xofluza is different. It blocks the enzyme that the virus needs to copy itself in the first place. If taken within 48 hours from the start of the symptoms, just one dose of Xofluza can stop the viruses cold in their tracks!  The new drug has been found to be effective against the A and B strains of the flu. 

It was Professor Robert Krug of University of Texas who discovered the virus-replication process in 1978. At the time, companies were not interested in an anti-flu drug as it was not profitable. But with the rise of dangerous flu strains, including the avian flu, drug companies started turning his research into a product that can be marketed. According to Professor Krug who is retired now, he feels like the "father of Xofluza!"

It is still too early to say how effective the new drug will be. Doctors still recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months should take flu shots. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.  

Sources: CDC, NYTimes, LiveScience, CBS, Mayo Clinic