Developed by scientists from the CSIRO, the University of Bath and the University of British Columbia, the drug has been proven effective in preventing the spread of different strains of influenza, by removing sugars on the surface that flu viruses bind to in order to infect cells.
According to Stephen Eddey, a director of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS), Influenza vaccines target a specific strain of flu virus – and target them very effectively, but viruses continue to mutate and become resistant to available treatments.
Vaccines on the other hand, can not mutate to stay up to speed with each new generation of the virus, so new vaccines must continually be developed to deal with the new strains that emerge. This lapse in time means that the public sometimes must wait up to seven months in order to access the suitable vaccine.
The new antiviral drug works against these resistant strains, while working against any future mutations, because the site where the drug binds is common to all flu strains.
Researcher Professor Steve Withers predicts the drug will play an important role as the first line of defence in modulating disease severity, and in controlling a pandemic while vaccines are prepared.
The bad news for those who rely on flu vaccines is that it’s likely to take seven years for this drug to reach market.
“One side-effect of influenza vaccines is that they suppress some aspects of the immune system, namely the part that fights infections,” explains Mr Eddy. “This leaves you vulnerable to any virus doing the rounds, and is the reason why some people develop a severe bout of flu after being vaccinated.”
“With a strong immune system, a healthy human body is able to adapt even to mutating viruses.”
The most powerful nutritional supplements in this respect are zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, a high-quality multivitamin, plus the herbs astragalus and Echinacea.
“However, it’s important to understand that Echinacea should be taken only when you are sick, not as a preventative measure,” Mr Eddey points out. “Astragalus is used as a preventive – but if you get sick you must stop taking this herb.”
The ATMS is Australia’s largest professional body for qualified natural-medicine practitioners: its 12,000 members from 26 modalities represent more than two-thirds of natural therapists in Australia. Members must meet minimum education standards, work to a strict code of ethics and comply with requirements such as continuing professional development.