In the medical journal equivalent of a newspaper Extra! edition, the Journal of the American Medical Association went to press early with several stories on this year's flu resistance to Roche's antiviral remedy Tamiflu (oseltamivir). According to JAMA--and another review slated for this week's New England Journal of Medicine--Tamiflu resistance has been ID'd in 98.5 percent of the U.S. influenza A viruses tested. That's quite a leap from last year's Tamiflu resistance of 12 percent last year and less than 1 percent two years ago.
Unfortunately, that's the strain of flu that's circulating most widely this winter. "It's really hard to use Tamiflu now in any significant way; there is so much resistance out there," Andrew Pekosz, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Baltimore Sun.
The resistance isn't arising because Tamiflu has been overused, scientists say. Rather, it's influenza's ability to shape-shift that's causing the problem: a natural mutation appears to have boosted resistance to the drug.
So what's the alternative? Vaccination, experts say. Flu season still hasn't peaked, and patients who get shots now can get protection within two weeks. And those who were vaccinated early on may want to get a booster shot, some docs say. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline is reminding folks that its antiflu med Relenza is a "preferred medication" for this year's influenza subtypes. And it has "ample supplies" of the drug available.