Fighting flu, one at a time

Published 10:50 pm Friday, November 16, 2018

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 24 approved a new drug for patients with flu — the first, novel treatment of its kind in nearly 20 years.

Xofluza is for patients ages 12 and older who have been symptomatic for no more than 48 hours, according to the press release. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb stated in the press release that it had been nearly two decades since the FDA approved an antiviral flu treatment with a “novel mechanism of action.”

“With thousands of people getting the flu every year, and many people becoming seriously ill, having safe and effective treatment alternatives is critical,” Gottlieb stated. “This novel drug provides an important, additional treatment option.”

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Patients with the flu can have their symptoms and illness duration reduced if they are treated with antiviral drugs within 48 hours of becoming sick, according to the press release. What helps make Xofluza so effective is that it requires only a single, oral dose.

Xofluza was tested in two randomized, controlled clinical trials of 1,832 patients, where participants were assigned to receive either Xofluza, a placebo or another antiviral flu treatment. In both trials, the press release states, patients treated with Xofluza had a shorter duration of symptoms compared to patients who took the placebo.

Dr. Anhtai Nguyen, the chief medical officer of the Bon Secours Maryview and DePaul medical centers, said in a phone interview that it’s a great treatment alternative, because virus strains can become resistant to older medications.

The single dose of the drug also helps ensure that patients will take their medicine, especially the elderly.

“When you can cut down the number of times that the patient has to take the medication, it makes it that much easier for the patient to remember to take it,” Nguyen said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The timing and duration of flu seasons vary year to year, but activity often begins to increase in October, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu activity tends to peak between December and February, but it can last as late as May.

The segments of the population most susceptible to influenza are ages 65 and older and ages 5 and younger. According to the CDC, roughly 80,000 people were killed by influenza in the 2017-2018 season, and two pediatric deaths have been reported so far this season.

“It’s never too late to get the flu shot,” Nguyen said.