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For 3 decades scientists have been experimenting with medications that stifle the influenza virus Two drugs amantadine and rimantadine can impede the disease and limit symptoms However neither works against one of the two major strains of influenza and both can be eluded by the evolving virus In addition amantadine causes some disagreeable side effects including confusion and nightmares A new antiviralzanamivirseems to ease or eliminate many symptoms of either flu strain if taken within a day or two of the diseases onset and the viruses seem powerless to develop resistance to it Now researchers find that the medication also works as a preventive against both strains of influenza when taken for 4 weeks during the height of flu season In the July 7 Journal of the American Medical Association they also report that zanamivir shows no side effects The two classes of disease-causing influenza virus are dubbed A and B The potential of having access to a new class of antiviral agents that can be used in the prevention of both influenza A and B is very exciting says Linda C Lambert of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda Md To test the drug researchers gave each of 1107 people in Michigan and Missouri an inhaler that dispensed a powder and instructed them to take one dose per day Half of the people received an inert substance or placebo the rest got zanamivir Neither researchers nor participants knew which was the placebo Of 554 people getting the placebo 34 subsequently came down with the flu and 19 of them also ran a fever Of 553 getting zanamivir only 11 got the flu and just 3 had a fever About 14 percent of each group had already received a flu shot Among these people zanamivir imparted additional protection and didnt hinder the vaccines effectiveness says study coauthor Arnold S Monto of the University of Michigan in
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