Amid lengthening flu season, new virus-killing drug emerges

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The flu season usually wraps up by the end of March, but doctors fear this recent cold snap could lengthen the epidemic. (KABC)

The flu season usually wraps up by the end of March, but doctors fear this recent cold snap could lengthen the epidemic, but now there is a new drug from Japan that may bring hope for future flu seasons.

Whether or not it has reached its peak, the flu is still expected to circulate for several weeks.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Suman Radhakrishna said, "The flu season was brutal. We had so many patients in the ER it had to close because the ICU was full. The floors were full."

At Dignity Health's California Hospital Medical Center, doctors are bracing for yet another surge.

"When it's cold, people tend to be in close quarters with each other and that's the way in which you disseminate (the virus) because of sneezing and coughing. The droplets spread the virus," said Radhakrishna. She is still urging people to get a flu shot if they haven't had one.

But a new oral drug called baloxavir marboxil, just approved in Japan, could change the way the flu is treated. While it works similarly to Tamiflu, this new drug can contain the infection within 24 hours because it stops the virus from multiplying.

This is how the flu virus attacks your immune system: It hijacks the cells in your respiratory tract and takes advantage of its natural mechanisms for replicating, creating more flu virus. This overtakes your immune cells.

The new flu drug is designed to shut down this process.

"Maybe using this drug will help decrease the contagion even more and that way we don't have so many people falling sick with the flu," Radhakrishna said. Containing the infection means people will be less likely to spread it.

The drug, which will be known by the brand name Xofluza, will come in three different versions: one for healthy adults, one for children and one for those at high-risk.

The hope is that it will be available in the United States, but some experts predict it may not be on the U.S. market until next year. Regardless, a flu shot remains your first line of defense.

"It is important to take the vaccine because prevention is much better than a cure and you don't want to fall sick if you can avoid it," said Radhakrishna.
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