If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how terrible the symptoms can get. Sky-high temperatures, chills, aches, and congestion can leave you feeling exhausted. But did you know that your medication could have something to do with the severity of your infection?
According to a study published in the journal Viruses, certain medications can make the influenza virus more or less active. A research team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology noticed that many of the patients who die from the virus are elderly and have underlying chronic conditions. Many of those patients rely on prescribed medications for arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension. As a result, the team theorized that those medications could affect how patients respond to the virus.
Drugs That May Reduce the Flu’s Viral Activity
To begin their investigation, the researchers identified 45 of the most commonly prescribed drugs in Norway. They decided to test the drugs to see how each one affected the influenza A virus.
To do so, the researchers infected animal cells with the virus. From there, they analyzed how each drug would interact with the virus and the cells.
They found that many of the drugs affected either the cells or the virus by changing gene expression. Gene expression occurs when the information in our DNA gets converted into instructions. Certain enzymes read the DNA and help create proteins and other molecules. The new proteins and molecules help the cell function and respond to its environment.
For example, several drugs boosted the activity of a gene called PTGS2. Previous research shows that this gene helps ease inflammation caused by infections. The drugs that effectively helped reduce inflammation in the cells included:
- Amlodipine (Norvasc), a calcium channel blocker that improves blood flow.
- Lercanidipine (Zanidip), a calcium channel blocker that treats high blood pressure.
- Drospirenone (Slynd, Yasmin), a progestin medication in birth control and menopausal hormone therapy.
- Esomeprazole (Nexium), a proton pump inhibitor that treats gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Sertraline (Zoloft), an antidepressant.
- Simvastatin (FloLipid or Zocor), which lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Other drugs worked to diminish how quickly the virus could multiply. Those included:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor), which treats high cholesterol.
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec, Aller-Tec), an antihistamine that treats allergies
- Acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin.
- Nicotinic acid (niacin, vitamin B-3), which can treat high cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Naproxen (Aleve, Flanax), which treats inflammation and pain.
- Tamsulosin (Flomax), which can treat symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
- Thiamine, or vitamin B-1.
- Vitamin D-3.
Drugs That May Increase Viral Activity or Diminish the Body’s Response
Some medications negatively affected cell function as the cells tried to fight off the virus. Those drugs included:
- 17a-ethynylestradiol (found in Afirmelle 28 Day, Alesse), a synthetic hormone derived from estradiol which treats osteoporosis and menopause symptoms.
- 4-acetamidophenol, or acetaminophen (tylenol).
- Bumetanide (Bumex), a diuretic “water pill” that treats fluid retention and high blood pressure.
- Candesartan (Atacand), which treats high blood pressure.
Surprisingly, certain medications diminished the effect of the flu and diminished the cell’s ability to fight off the flu. Those included amlodipine, atorvastatin, acetylsalicylic acid, and cetirizine.
What does this mean for you?
While these results are eye opening, the researchers admitted that they don’t yet know how certain medications will affect influenza patients in the real world. “Our hypothesis is based on experiments with computer models and in the laboratory,” Denis Kainov, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine (IKOM), told EurekAlert.
In addition, it may be difficult to know whether to mess with a person’s drug usage during a flu infection. Kainov cautioned that the research still needs confirmation from clinical tests.
If you are concerned about how your prescriptions will affect your body’s ability to fight off the flu, talk to your doctor. A doctor may be able to alter your medications and offer you advice. Plus, it’s never too late to get your flu shot this season!