The head of a US research firm says the deaths caused by the swine flu outbreak may be partly due to an overactive immune system – not a weakened one.
Dr. David Moskowitz is the CEO of GenoMed in St. Louis, Missouri. He describes GenoMed as a disease management company that prefers using readily available generic drugs. He says, "We've been interested in the idea that viruses kill more because people overdo their immune response, rather than having too weak an immune response." He says if that's the case, people's immune response can be reduced a few notches by using common blood pressure medication: "They gently immunosuppress you, much more gently than, say, prednisone or steroids. So we've been using them for any viral disease we can get our hands on. We've been using it on West Nile (virus) in people and horses and birds since 2003 with good results – about a 70% treatment efficacy rate."
Moskowitz says the high immune response is caused by what's called a cytokine storm, a "tremendous outpouring of cytokines, of factors released by white cells that get other white cells really jazzed up." He says, "It's these white cells…that basically…turn the lung into a totally cellular organ like a liver, so it can't exchange gas anymore."
"People have always said with West Nile it's exactly the same group that dies, these young, healthy people from 20 to 50 that get hit the worst. So there's this old-school virology dogma that says you only get sick if your immune system is weak, and yet they've never been able to explain why healthy people cutting the grass are the ones who get West Nile every summer or why, in the 1918 flu epidemic it was young soldiers who all died. And the answer is, sure, if you're totally immunosuppressed, you're at risk for getting a viral infection, but the general population (that) actually dies from a viral disease are overdoing their immune response, not under doing it."
The researcher says there are anti-viral drugs that are effective against the Swine Flu virus but they're expensive and not widely available. The blood pressure drugs the company uses for West Nile haven't been shown yet to work for swine flu, so clinical trials are necessary. But he says these drugs are safe, cheap and available.