Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Tamiflu Swan Song? Building Resistance to Top Avian Flu Drug

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Tamiflu Swan Song? Building Resistance to Top Avian Flu Drug

Article excerpt

As the WHO has begun warning of the potential for an avian flu pandemic, governments worldwide have been stockpiling Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate). Tamiflu minimizes flu symptoms and duration by preventing the virus from escaping the cells it infects. It also reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus. Now British researchers are predicting that heavy use of Tamiflu, as during a pandemic, will expose wild waterfowl to enough of the antiviral agent to foster a resistant strain [EHP 115:102-106; Singer et al.].

The risk that Tamiflu will promote a resistant virus comes from the drug's excreted metabolite, oseltamivir carboxylate (OC), which is in fact the active antiviral. Up to 80% of ingested Tamiflu is excreted as OC in urine and feces. OC withstands degradation through sewage treatment and for several weeks afterward. Birds drinking water from catchments contaminated with OC would ingest the antiviral, which would inhibit nonresistant viruses in the birds' digestive systems while enabling resistant viruses to proliferate. Birds excreting the resistant virus would spread the strain among other waterfowl at the same body of water.

To estimate birds' exposure to OC, Singer and his colleagues examined data on OC's biodegradability along with measurements of wastewater discharges into 16 major catchment areas in the United States and the United Kingdom. …

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