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At Last There Is Something You Can Do About Flu


You can toss away grandma's remedies, and forget about weeks in bed feeling ghastly. For the first time in 30 years, there's a new prescription medicine treatment for the dreaded flu, and it's a simple inhaler called Relenza that gets you back on your feet faster.

It's a common misconception that influenza is the same thing as a cold, only worse. In fact, the flu virus causes serious and potentially deadly respiratory illness. As the virus starts to copy itself and spread, and the body tries to fight it off, that's when all the other symptoms of headaches, muscle aches, fever and dehydration start.

"Relenza works by stopping the flu virus's copying mechanism," says Dr Ian Griffiths, medical director of Glaxo Wellcome, the maker of Relenza. "When the virus multiplies, it relies on an enzyme called neuraminidase to release the copies so that they can spread to new cells. Relenza blocks that releasing mechanism, stopping the infection from spreading.

"Trials in the US, Europe and Australia, where Relenza was invented by scientists from Biota Holdings Ltd, have shown that people recover up to 30 per cent faster with Relenza. At the same time, it minimises the severity of symptoms like headache, cough, sore throat, aching muscles and loss of appetite. This allows mothers, sports people, the self-employed and others who can't afford to have weeks in bed to get back on their feet more quickly.

"And because it's an inhaler, Relenza gets straight to the site of infection with no more side-effects than a sugar pill," Dr Griffiths says.

Influenza is expected to hit New Zealand hard this year. Influenza B has a three-to-five-year cycle and returns in 1999, while virologists also expect influenza A problems thanks to the return of the Sydney A strain which was responsible for over 3,000 deaths in the United Kingdom last northern winter. While vaccines have been made more widely available, and include Sydney A, they are ineffective against influenza B.

Symptoms of influenza include fever or feverishness (a temperature greater than 37.8 degrees celsius), headache, cough, muscle aches, sore throat and lack of energy.

Along with many other new medicines, Relenza is not government- subsidised, and will cost approximately $69.95 per treatment. However, Dr Griffiths many people may be willing to pay for something that gets them back working faster. Relenza is not available for children under 12 years old, and needs to be used within two days of the first signs of symptoms to be most effective.




1. Fleming D et al. `High risk' and otherwise healthy patients demonstrate alleviation of influenza symptoms 2.5 days earlier following inhaled zanamivir treatment; European Study, Winter 1997/8. 36th meeting of the IDSA, Denver, Colorado, USA, November 12-15, 1998; Abstract No: 789

2. Silagy CA et al. Impact of zanamivir on health status, productivity and health care resource use in patients with influenza. 36th meeting of the IDSA, Denver, Colorado, USA, November 12-15, 1998; Abstract No: 36

3. Silagy CA et al. On behalf of the MIST (Management of Influenza in the Southern Hemisphere Trialists) Study Group. Randomised trial of efficacy and safety of inhaled zanamivir in treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. Lancet 1998; 352: 1877-81

4. Osterhaus A, et al. A double blind randomised trial of zanamivir in the treatment of acute influenza - clinical and virological efficacy results. 38th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), San Diego, California, USA, September 24-27, 1998. Abstract.

5. Hayden FG et al. Efficacy and safety of the neuraminidase inhibitor zanamivir in the treatment of influenza virus infection. N Engl J Med 1997; 337: 874-80


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