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Influenza, shortened to flu, is a fairly common viral infection, affecting millions of people each year. As per the World Health Organization, the disease results in up to 5 million severe cases and 650,000 deaths every year. Most flu symptoms, such as cough (usually dry), fever, muscle and joint pain, headache, sore throat, malaise (feeling unwell), and a runny nose, occur with common cold (rhinitis), which is why doctors often ask patients to go for specific blood tests.
There are four types of influenza viruses: influenza A, influenza B, influenza C, and influenza D. People with uncomplicated flu infections are majorly provided palliative treatment (symptomatic relief), while those with severe infections are given antivirals. Pfizer Inc. Idenix Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Gilead Sciences, and Bristol-Myers Squibb LLC are the key players in the flu treatment market. Many of the flu drugs have also shown promise in the treatment of coronavirus, which is currently wreaking havoc around the world.
First coming to light in Wuhan, China, on December 1, 2019, the COVID-19 outbreak has registered more than 247,000 cases till March 20, 2020. Additionally, over 10,000 people have died of this novel strain of coronavirus, which is the primary reason driving the flu treatment market around the world. The other factor, revolving around the current epidemic, which is raising the demand for influenza medication, is that there is currently no drug approved for COVID-19 treatment. Several countries, including the U.S., Japan, and China, are developing drugs, but these will take some time to go through animal testing, followed by human trials in several phases, before finally getting the regulatory approval and starting to be mass produced.
In such a case, several antivirals, already available, are being clinically tested on COVID patients, to see if they work. For instance, the Japanese flu drug, Avigan, which contains favipiravir as its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), was reportedly given to 340 people in China suffering from coronavirus. After the administration, the patients are claimed to have recovered without any side-effects. Specifically, patients in Shenzhen registered a negative COVID test after just four days of receiving the favipiravir treatment. Contrarily, those who weren’t given the drug registered a negative blood test 11 days into the trial.
Additionally, the chest X-rays of 91% of favipiravir-treated subjects showed a betterment in lung function, while only 61% of those who weren’t given the treatment showed lung condition improvement. Similarly, in the trial being conducted in Wuhan, the drug shortened the duration people had fever to 2.5 days from 4.2 days. Seeing the initial success of favipiravir, several other influenza medicines are expected to be put into COVID-19 trials in the coming months.
With time, as more favorable results start to emerge from the trials, healthcare facilities around the world, especially those with coronavirus isolation rooms, will start using them in treatment. Ultimately, as more flu drugs prove effective, the demand for these medicines would increase significantly across the globe. Therefore, the growing research and development (R&D) in the healthcare domain, to use influenza drugs in the treatment of coronavirus infection, is helping the flu treatment market advance.