LANCET STUDY: CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENT MAY HELP COMBAT BIRD FLU

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A chemotherapy regimen used to treat an immune system disorder may increase survival rates in those who contract the H5N1 avian influenza virus, according to a recent study in the British journal The Lancet. The research, conducted by Swedish and Chinese investigators, compared data from hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) patients to post-mortem findings in people killed by H5N1.

In post-mortem analyses of two patients who died of H5N1, researchers found a reactive hemophagocytic syndrome and high levels of cytokines, including interleukin-2 and interferon gamma. Therefore, a combination of cytotoxic therapy -- used to treat HLH -- and antiviral therapy, according to Jan-Inge Henter of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, "is worth considering" as an anti-influenza treatment.

"There are many clinical similarities between H5N1 infection and HLH,"noted Henter and his colleagues in the Lancet article. "Both disorders are also characterized by a malignant course of a prominent non-malignant inflammatory reaction, and patients with H5N1 could develop secondary HLH."

The researchers suggested that the World Health Organization should "consider a platform for the undertaking of based on a modified HLH protocol (including corticosteroids and etoposide) in addition to supportive and antiviral therapy."