What is Relenza?
Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Relenza (zanamivir) is an antiviral drug, developed to reduce the symptoms of the influenza virus. This includes swine flu, avian (bird) flu and common seasonal flu. This treatment comes in the form of a powder, developed for inhalation twice daily for five days or once a day for up to 28 days.
Belonging to the neuraminidase inhibitors group, Relenza was in fact the first drug to be commercially engineered to fight against Influenza type A and Influenza type B. It works in a very similar way to Tamiflu. Its active ingredient, zanamivir, was first uncovered in 1989 by medical experts and was eventually approved under the brand name Relenza.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine Flu is a respiratory disease, usually affecting pigs. The result of a mutation in the influenza virus has caused the disease to spread and become more easily transmissible between humans. It has been reported to have resulted in a high level of infection in New Mexico, where it was first reported. The virus is constantly changing.
Worldwide there have been three recorded, large scale outbreaks of influenza, in the last 100 years. Experts have claimed these outbreaks to be the result of a new strain of the virus. This leaves us with cause for concern given official reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the newest H1N1 swine flu strain is also a new strain of the influenza virus.
How does Relenza work to prevent Swine Flu?
The active ingredient, zanamivir, serves to bind the neuraminidase at the surface of the virus, thus rendering it incapable of progressing. Essentially, an inhaler is utilised to deliver the medication to the main point of infection in the lungs. It works to destroy the chemical on the surface of the virus. This will work to prevent the flu virus from spreading to other cells, confining it to a smaller area. The best results are achieved if the medication is administered as early as possible.
As a result:
- Symptoms are reduced
- The immune system is strengthened, allowing it to fight the disease faster
When should you take Relenza and who is suitable for treatment?
Relenza should be administered from the onset of symptoms, or within a minimum of two days. In addition, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any course of medication. Relenza has been approved as a prevention medication against Swine Flu, and will potentially reduce symptoms in adults and children over the age of five.
Who should not take Relenza?
Relenza is not recommended for anybody suffering with chronic lung problems like asthma or obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Equally, you must not take Relenza if you have ever suffered an allergic reaction to zanamivir, lactose or milk protein. Pregnant women or women who are breast-feeding are also strongly advised against taking this medication, unless a doctor has deemed it safe.
Is Relenza suited to very young children and the elderly?
There is very little information regarding the safety of the product for children under the age of five, and parents are advised to look into alternatives. However children aged five upwards and adults are both eligible. However, parents are advised to supervise the use of the inhaler. You are also advised that little is known about the use of Relenza in elderly patients.
Can Relenza be mixed with other medicines?
Certain forms of medication can often affect the progress of other drugs. However, it is unlikely that Relenza will be affected by other treatments like paracetamol, or cough medicines, although you are strongly advised to consult your doctor if you are currently on any other form of medication.
How do I take Relenza?
Treatment will last five days. You are advised to stay with the course, regardless of whether the symptoms subside. It also recommended that you take two inhalations of Relenza twice a day, 12 hours apart. Relenza comes packaged inside medicine disks called Rotadisks and inhaled orally, through a delivery device called a Diskhaler®. Each Rotadisk is made up of four blisters, containing 5mg of the medication and 20mg of lactose powder. Complete instructions are available with the medication, but in brief you should:
- take a deep breath, placing the mouthpiece into your mouth;
- seal your lips around the mouthpiece, without covering the small holes;
- breathe deeply, holding the air for a few seconds.
If needed, repeat the process. Always cover the mouthpiece after use.
What happens if I miss a dose?
If you miss a dose, it is imperative that you do not take double as a means of compensation. You must simply continue with the course as soon as possible.
Are there any side effects?
You are advised to consult your doctor before beginning any course of medication. If you experience any adverse effects, you are advised to consult your doctor immediately. Although rare, recorded side effects have included:
- Shortness of breath - although the majority of these patients had previously suffered with asthma of OCPD
- Swelling of the face, mouth and throat
- Raised skin rash (hives)
In the event that any of the above are observed, you must seek medical advice and stop the course immediately.
Relenza is not currently available at HealthExpress, but we stock an alternative flu medication, Tamiflu.