Healthy fatty acids from fish could lead to a powerful new flu drug, a study reveals.
The three viruses that cause flu are a major cause of sickness in the UK and are behind around 4,000 deaths a year.
However, current antiviral drugs don’t protect the most seriously ill patients.
Now researchers have found a compound derived from fats found in fish oils prevents death in mice infected with influenza. It even works at advanced stages of the illness.
A flu jab is currently offered by the NHS to ‘at-risk’ groups including people over 65 and pregnant women.
However, because the winter flu virus mutates each year and new deadly strains develop, it only offers around 60 per cent protection.
Study author Yumiko Imai from Akita University in Japan, said: ‘Given the potential for future lethal pandemics, effective drugs are needed for the treatment of severe influenza, such as that caused by H5N1 viruses.
‘We have identified a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of severe influenza that is effective under conditions where known antiviral drugs fail to protect from death.’
Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and sore throat. However, it can cause a bacterial chest infection and even life-threatening pneumonia in those in at-risk groups.
Current antiviral drugs are not effective when given to these patients as little as two days after infection.
In an attempt to discover more effective drug targets for influenza, the scientists studied naturally occurring lipids derived from omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils.
They tested the lipid PD1 on human lung cells that had been infected with various flu strains.
The team found it prevented the the viruses from replicating, including bird flu (H5N1).
Further tests on influenza-infected mice revealed treatment with PD1 in combination with an approved antiviral drug improved survival rates.
It also worked even when given two days after infection.
‘Our findings suggest that PD1could serve as a biomarker as well as a much needed antiviral drug for severe and lethal influenza virus infections,’ Imai says.