The authors of a study published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, characterized viruses taken from the first person known to be stricken with H7N9 influenza and found that 35% of those viruses are resistant to oseltamivir (commercially known as Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), front line drugs used for treating H7N9 infections.
However, lab testing of the viruses, which detects the activity of a viral enzyme, fails to detect that these strains are resistant, so monitoring for the development of resistance using this technique would prove futile.
"If H7N9 does acquire human-to-human transmissibility, what do we have to treat it with until we have a vaccine? Oseltamivir. We would be in big trouble," says corresponding author Robert Webster of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Resistant strains of H7N9 can flourish in patients treated with oseltamivir or zanamivir, he says, inadvertently leading to the spread of resistant infections.
In the mBio study, the authors tested antiviral susceptibility of an H7N9 strain isolated from the first confirmed human case of avian H7N9 influenza using a method that tests the activity of the neuraminidase enzyme. The reassuring results were, unfortunately, misleading: the enzyme-based test indicated that the flu strain was susceptible to NA inhibiting antiviral drugs, but it is not.
A closer look at the viral isolate revealed it is actually made up of two distinct types of H7N9 viruses. Roughly 35% of the viruses carry the R292K mutation, making them resistant to NA inhibitors, and 65% are sensitive to these same drugs. The enzyme-based testing gave misleading results, says Webster, because the functioning wild-type enzymes masked the presence of the non-functioning mutant enzymes.
Using NA inhibitors to treat a patient infected with a resistant strain of H7N9 only encourages the virus to proliferate and can lead to enhanced spread of the resistant strain. The authors write that these results prove that it is crucial to use a gene-based surveillance technique that can detect these resistant influenza strains in a mixed infection.
H7N9 first emerged in China in early 2013, in some cases infecting individuals who had been in contact with poultry or with places where poultry are housed. The virus has since been detected in poultry at live markets near where human infections have been reported. After the closure of many live poultry markets in China and with the start of the warm season, which is not conducive to influenza spread, the infection rate appears to have slowed. As of July 12, the number of infections stands at 132 and the number of deaths at 43.
A recent study found that antiviral treatment failed in two patients infected with a strain of H7N9 influenza that carries a mutation called R292K, and that these patients had a poor clinical outcome. The mutation causes a change in the neuraminidase gene and makes the virus resistant to neuraminidase (NA) inhibitors, including Tamiflu and Relenza. NA inhibitors have been the front line therapeutic option for treating H7N9 influenza because the virus is already resistant to M2 ion channel blockers Amantadine (Symmetrel) and its methyl derivative Rimantadine (Flumadine). Considering the severity of H7N9 flu infection and the fact that so few options exist for treatment, it is important to continue to evaluate the sensitivity of clinical isolates to NA inhibitors and to monitor for the emergence of resistant variants.
If the recent history of H5N1 influenza is a guide, says Webster, then H7N9 could rapidly evolve the ability to spread from person to person. If it does, and if the virus reemerges in the fall, the situation with H7N9 could become quite serious. In the event of a widespread outbreak, Tamiflu and Relenza will work alright as treatments, but the development of the R292K mutation puts those options in jeopardy, says Webster.
But the news isn't all bad. Webster also points out that antiviral resistance is something of a burden for influenza viruses, and that fitter wild-type H7N9 strains may eventually win out over resistant strains. In the absence of a drug like Tamiflu, Webster says, it seems unlikely that these resistant viruses would acquire epidemic characteristics.
Regardless of the specific evolutionary steps H7N9 will take, influenza is an ongoing threat - and the lack of suitable drugs is a grave cause for concern.
"The great need at the moment are additional drugs aimed at additional sites in the influenza genome. There are some [drugs] in the pipeline, but they are still under testing at the moment," says Webster. "We'd better get some vaccine seed stocks up and ready. The antiviral option for controlling H7N9 isn't too good."
mBio® is an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology to make microbiology research broadly accessible. The focus of the journal is on rapid publication of cutting-edge research spanning the entire spectrum of microbiology and related fields. It can be found online at http://mbio.asm.org.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences