By Imelda Saad | Posted: 16 September 2010 1901 hrs

SINGAPORE: A team of Singapore doctors has found a mutant H1N1 virus resistant to Tamiflu – the antiviral drug used to treat it.

The superbug was detected in a sample from a previously healthy 28-year-old female patient, at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The mutant strain developed within two days of exposure to the drug. Doctors said less than one per cent of flu is currently resistant.

But they added clinicians should consider resistance when patients who are seriously ill with flu fail to respond to treatment for H1N1.

That’s because the strain can evolve almost overnight.

Researchers noted that anti-viral drugs should be given only when necessary as they have limited benefit in mild infections.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital senior consultant in laboratory medicine Timothy Barkham said: “As with all antimicrobial medicines, we should not give patients anti-viral drugs unless it is really necessary, in order to preserve them for patients who really need them”.

He noted that antivirals are likely to be most effective in severe flu but are of limited benefit in mild infections.

The research was supported by three A*STAR institutes: the Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), and the Bioinformatics Institute (BII).

ETC developed the method used to chart the evolution of drug resistance in the influenza virus, while GIS provided the technology to sequence the viral genome and BII compared the mutant to previous resistant strains to confirm its novelty.

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