A recent study in Hong Kong found that the H1N1 pandemic can be fought with other methods when the standard treatment fails. Patients who got extremely sick from the virus responded very well when treated with antibodies that came from survivors of the disease. The results were published in the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases by Kwok-yung Yuen, a University of Hong Kong virologist.
The study reported that most patients did not seek hospital treatment until very late in the illness. It took an average of 5 to 7 days after the first symptoms manifested before patients were admitted to the hospital and could be given antiviral drugs. The author of the study reported that such drugs significantly decrease in efficacy as time passes.
Tamiflu is the gold standard of treatment among antiviral drugs used to treat H1N1. Unfortunately, alternative means of treatment are often necessary for this serious disease; plasma antibodies become useful when the disease does not respond to antiviral drugs.
The study involved 93 patients who admitted themselves to the hospital for serious H1N1 complications between fall of 2009 and summer of 2010. 20 of those patients decided to receive the antibody treatment and the rest were given the standard antiviral treatment. 20 percent of those in the antibody group died compared to almost 55 percent in the group receiving standard treatment; the researchers found this result to be very significant. Specifically, the patients receiving plasma antibodies showed a significant drop in measurable amounts of the virus in respiratory secretions; measures of inflammation associated with the virus also dropped quickly.
Using customized antibodies, scientists were able to find strings to fight this disease, and doing so has caused medical breakthroughs for generations, but the process still has simple roots. Blood is collected from patients who survive certain diseases and then spun in centrifuges. The blood is separated from plasma, which contains antibodies used to fight infection. That plasma is then injected into patients, increasing their ability to ward off infection. The first recorded use of this process was in 1898 during a clinical trial aimed at treating Diphtheria. Physicians also tried this technique in 1918 during a viral outbreak that has been compared to the H1N1 virus, however the experiment produced unclear results.
The seasonal flu kills between one-quarter and one-half million people annually, some reports indicate. The H1N1 swine flu pandemic may be slightly more deadly, but data is ambiguous now as it’s only been around since 2009 and more accurate statistics will take years to gather. What is conclusively known, however, is that younger adults and children are drastically affected when compared to the seasonal flu, which tends to predominantly kill elderly people.