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Influenza worries include MRSA, bird flu

February 7, 2009 | 12:01 am

As a story in today's Times reports, the nation's top health officials are concerned that the dominant strain of influenza circulating in much of the country is resistant to Tamiflu, the most commonly used influenza antiviral. But that wasn't the only worry expressed during a recent update on all things influenza.

Diaz High on the list was the threat of a deadly pneumonia that can develop when someone is infected with both the flu virus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

It was that combination that killed the father of actress Cameron Diaz last April, said Dr. Andrew Pavia during a teleconference sponsored by the Infectious Diseases Society of America earlier this week.

Emilio Diaz died unexpectedly at age 58 after developing flu that turned into pneumonia. He lived in Seal Beach.

Bacterial infections are a well-recognized complication of influenza in the elderly. This particular strain of MRSA produces especially virulent toxins. The combination of virulence and drug resistance has made it a threat even to younger, previously healthy people, like Emilio Diaz.

"The bacteria we’re dealing with are changing, becoming more drug-resistant," said Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. "MRSA is causing a significant number of severe illnesses and occasionally death in healthy people after influenza."

Pavia called for more research into finding the best treatments for such infections, including finding new antibiotics. Having such drugs on hand should be part of the nation's planning for the next big flu pandemic, he said.

Which brings us to bird flu.

Scientists again warned that the deadly avian influenza virus that has been circulating in Asia for a decade remains a potential threat to humans. The fear is that the virus, which is almost 100% fatal in poultry, will mutate to more easily infect and spread among humans.

"It's probably the most lethal virus that's ever been discovered," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, head of the World Health Organization's global influenza program.

Nobody wants to think about what would happen if such a lethal flu virus were to meet MRSA.

-- Mary Engel

Actress Cameron Diaz lost her father to MRSA pneumonia following influenza

Photo credit: AP / David Goldman