A recent study has found that anti-cancer treatment (chemotherapy) given to patients with disorder of the immune system could also be used in the treatment of the much dreaded bird flu.
The treatment modality is yet to be tested on human volunteers. An immune system disorder referred to as haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is similar in a lot of ways to the bird flu infection. Therefore it is logical and reasonable to assume that the treatment for HLH would work for bird flu as well.
Bird flu has claimed the lives of a number of individuals across the globe and continues to haunt the world. Although no case of human-human bird flu transmission has been reported so far, it is feared that mutation of the virus could lead to a pandemic, killing millions worldwide. This necessitates the development of novel treatment techniques to combat the same.
HLH could be inherited or could be the manifestation of severe viral infection (Epstein-Barr virus, EBV). The condition is characterized by excessive production of white blood cells (cells that fight infection) that gather in healthy tissue, resulting in organ damage and death. Similar symptoms are produced in humans infected with bird flu.
In addition to the clinical similarities, similarities based on autopsy examinations have also been reported. The researchers had previously developed a chemotherapy treatment in 1994, using the anti-cancer drug etoposide that destroyed the excess white blood cells. Although the 8-week treatment is associated with few side effects such as reduced blood count and nausea, the benefit far outweighs the risk.
It is now known that the immune system disorder can occur in patients with bird flu as well. The researchers hope that the treatment for HLH (induced by viruses) would be successful in destroying the bird flu virus as well. The hypothesis formulated by the researchers appears in the online version of the Lancet medical journal.
The researchers have also urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to extend co-operation regarding conducting clinical trials for the treatment of human bird flu.