Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drug-resistant flu hits the US this year

Anyone else feeling under the weather these days? The New York Times reports today that 99% of flu cases in the US this year are resistant to the most commonly-used antiviral drug, Tamiflu. Only 11% of last year's flu strains were resistant to Tamiflu.

The strangest part of this story for me is that scientists believe that the Tamiflu resistance mutation occurred spontaneously, and NOT in response to overuse or misuse of the drug (as is the case in most antibiotic resistance cases). The mutation is apparently “just a passenger, totally unrelated to Tamiflu usage, but hitchhiking on another change.” They suggest that the mutation first occurred in Norway, which does not use much Tamiflu.

The good news is that it has been a mild flu season thus far. For the most recent flu data for the US this year, check out Google's really cool flu trends site. They use search terms to track the incidence of influenza. Not only do they get it right (their data matches the CDC's), but Google's data comes out about two weeks before the CDC's. Note that my home state of Georgia currently has lower flu incidence than California.

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