THURSDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) — A 22-year-old cancer patient battling for her life after contracting H1N1 swine flu recovered fully after doctors took the unorthodox approach of giving her the antiviral drug Relenza intravenously.
The British physicians who treated the woman said this last-resort approach may need to be considered for others as swine flu sweeps the globe. Relenza is licensed in pill form and as an inhaled powder, but not as an intravenous medication.
In this woman’s case, neither Relenza nor a similar H1N1-fighting drug, Tamiflu, could reach her severely affected lungs when taken orally or inhaled, the physicians report in the Sept. 4 online issue of The Lancet.
“There were clinical signs that the patient was not able to absorb the Tamiflu because of a problem with the digestive system; and in the case of Relenza, the lungs were very inflamed with a lot of fluid leakage, and we considered it likely that the powdered form of the drug was not able to penetrate far enough to be effective,” explained study co-author Dr. Michael Kidd of University College London Hospitals.
The woman’s situation was dire. She had been hospitalized in an intensive care unit for 16 days and was breathing through a respirator after her lungs filled with fluid. Also, her immune system had been badly weakened by the chemotherapy she was taking to help fight her cancer.
Since oral or inhaled medicines had failed to reach the woman’s lungs, Kidd and his colleague, Dr. Mervyn Singer, turned to an unlicensed form of intravenous Relenza after consultations with the hospital and next-of-kin. “Giving the antiviral drug into the bloodstream would get round these obstacles, and we anticipated it would reach the lungs rapidly and effectively,” Kidd said.