The common influenza virus has rapidly developed a resistance to the Tamiflu, the most common anti-flu medicine.
The situation is ominous although not yet catastrophic, according to Anders Tegnel at the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).
“We use very little Tamiflu today. It is not a life saving medicine like, for example, penicillin,” Tegnell said.
Preventative care against the flu in Sweden is instead concentrated on the use of a vaccine, and this generally provides a very high degree of protection.
Tegnell however warned that the situation is distressing with regard to the worldwide flu pandemic that is expected to strike sooner or later.
The Tamiflu-resistant virus strains have shown that they are virulent and as the virus is able to combine different types of genetic material there is a risk that Tamiflu does little to arrest the coming pandemic virus – even if it is impossible to predict today how that virus will look.
“It does not have to happen, but it does show that we have to take the risks of a Tamiflu resistant pandemic more seriously,” Tegnell observed.
Sweden has preparations in place for an eventual pandemic. According to Tegnell these are based on a combination of different antiviral medicines.
Aside from Tamiflu there is also Relenza, which continues to work effectively but must be inhaled, and then Amantadin.
Amantadin is a medicine that is barely in use today as it causes side effects and the risk of resistant bacteria is high.
During the previous influenza outbreak a year ago analysis in several countries showed that a common influenza virus, H1N1, had become resistant to Tamiflu.
The figures varied with the USA reporting a 10 percent resistance, Europe 25 percent and 11 percent in Sweden. In Norway the figures showed that Tamiflu was useless in 67 percent of cases, according to a report in Svenska Dagbladet.
Experts report that in the interim period the situation has worsened considerably and the corresponding figures in the USA are now 90 percent and in South Africa 100 percent.
Sweden has spent large sums of money buying up stocks of Tamiflu – a drug that is central to the strategy to prepare for the outbreak of a bird flu epidemic.