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WHO urges prompt antiviral treatment for suspected H1N1 flu*

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Saturday Oct 17, 2009 (foodconsumer.org) -- The World Health Organization warned doctors of a wave of possibly severe swine flu complications, including life-threatening viral pneumonia, and urged them to treat suspected H1N1 flu cases as quickly as possible with antiviral drugs.

Unfortunately, use of antiviral drugs did not seem to reduce the swine flu deaths.  The first report of 36 pediatric deaths from complications of H1N1 flu virus found it is true that patients with H1N1 flu who died are found suffering another type of infection. But the report shows that the number of deaths is actually higher among those who received antiviral treatment than those who did not receive treatment.

According to WHO data, the currently circulating H1N1 flu virus is more damaging to young people than older people. And a new study has suggested that older people may have become infected with flu strains that are similar to the so called 2009 novel H1N1 virus strain and they become immune from the pandemic H1N1 virus.

Nikki Shindo, WHO's Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Department was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying "It's not like seasonal influenza."  Seasonal flu affects more elderly people than children. "It can cause very severe disease in previously healthy young adults."

Shindo made the comments at a special three-day meeting in Washington in front of more than 100 health specialists from all over the world. The WHO's medical specialist said the virus appears more able than the seasonal flu virus to get deep in the lungs. Once settled there, it can cause viral pneumonia which can lead to severe lung damage and a life-threatening condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome.

The H1N1 virus is everywhere and in a rare response WHO declared the H1N1 flu pandemic in June even though deaths caused by the flu are rare.  And Forbes reported that in New Zealand and Australia, where the H1N1 virus is prevalent in the summer time, the death rate from flu is actually lower than that recorded for previous years. One theory again reported by Forbes is that infection with H1N1 flu actually gives the patients strengthened immunity and the common seasonal flu virus in many cases was prevented from infecting those with H1N1 flu, reducing the fatality rate from overall infections.

The first report of 36 children who died from H1N1 virus released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one third apparently suffered no underlying medical conditions.  However, many of the "healthy" victims are non-white and some experts suggested that it is likely these healthy children died because they were vitamin D deficient, which makes a person vulnerable to influenza infection of all types.

By david Liu - davidl at foodconsumer dot org and editing by Sheilah Downey - sheilahd at foodconsumer dot org

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