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Searchers map the global spread of drug-resistant influenza
Date:9/14/2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. In the new movie "Contagion," fictional health experts scramble to get ahead of a flu-like pandemic as a drug-resistant virus quickly spreads, killing millions of people within days after they contract the illness.

Although the film isn't based entirely on reality, it's not exactly science fiction, either.

"Certain strains of influenza are becoming resistant to common treatments," said Ira M. Longini, a professor of biostatistics in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, the UF College of Medicine, and the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. "We've been able to map out globally how this phenomenon is happening."

Longini is among a team of researchers who have published this month in the Royal Society journal Interface and explain how seasonal H1N1 influenza became resistant to oseltamivir, otherwise known as Tamiflu, the most widely used antiviral agent for treating and preventing flu. The scientists say that a combination of genetic mutations and human migration through air travel can lead to the rapid global spread of drug-resistant strains.

"If you see resistant strains in parts of the world where no one is taking antiviral drugs, that's the smoking gun that the resistant strain must be transmitting," said Longini, who also worked on this research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

In some situations, drug-resistant bacteria and viruses can spread when drugs are overused. The scientists explored this theory using a mathematical model that simulates the spread of influenza across 321 cities connected by air travel. Using this model, they found that oseltamivir use had not been nearly widespread enough to promote the spread of antiviral resistance after it arose. However, the resistant strain probably originated in one person taking the drug.

"Oseltamivir is an important prophylactic, or preventative agent, against future fl
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Contact: Ira M. Longini
ilongini@ufl.edu
404-275-5156
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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