, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 303-323
Date: 16 Aug 2012

Prophylaxis and Treatment of Influenza Virus Infection

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Abstract

Influenza virus infections remain an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, a recurrence of pandemic influenza remains a real possibility. There are now effective ways to both prevent and treat influenza. Prevention of infection is most effectively accomplished by vaccination. Vaccination with the inactivated, intramuscular influenza vaccine has been clearly demonstrated to reduce serious morbidity and mortality associated with influenza infection, especially in groups of patients at high risk (e.g. the elderly). However, the inactivated, intramuscular vaccine does not strongly induce cell-mediated or mucosal immune responses, and protection induced by the vaccine is highly strain specific. Live, attenuated influenza vaccines administered intranasally have been studied in clinical trials and shown to elicit stronger mucosal and cell-mediated immune responses. Live, attenuated vaccines appear to be more effective for inducing protective immunity in children or the elderly than inactivated, intramuscular vaccines. Additionally, novel vaccine methodologies employing conserved com-ponents of influenza virus or viral DNA are being developed. Preclinical studies suggest that these approaches may lead to methods of vaccination that could induce immunity against diverse strains or subtypes of influenza.

Because of the limitations of vaccination, antiviral therapy continues to play an important role in the control of influenza. Two major classes of antivirais have demonstrated ability to prevent or treat influenza in clinical trials: the adaman-tanes and the neuraminidase inhibitors. The adamantanes (amantadine and rimantadine) have been in use for many years. They inhibit viral uncoating by blocking the proton channel activity of the influenza A viral M2 protein. Limitations of the adamantanes include lack of activity against influenza B, toxicity (especially in the elderly), and the rapid development of resistance. The neuraminidase inhibitors were designed to interfere with the conserved sialic acid binding site of the viral neuraminidase and act against both influenza A and B with a high degree of specificity when administered by the oral (oseltamivir) or inhaled (zanamivir) route. The neuraminidase inhibitors have relatively low toxicity, and viral resistance to these inhibitors appears to be uncommon. Additional novel antivirals that target other phases of the life cycle of influenza are in preclinical development. For example, recombinant collectins inhibit replication of influenza by binding to the viral haemagglutinin as well as altering phagocyte responses to the virus. Recombinant techniques have been used for generation of antiviral proteins (e.g. modified collectins) or oligonucleotides.

Greater understanding of the biology of influenza viruses has already resulted in significant advances in the management of this important pathogen. Further advances in vaccination and antiviral therapy of influenza should remain a high priority.