Researchers tested whether the antiviral drug baloxavir could prevent the spread of influenza virus in an animal model in conditions that mimicked household settings. The results were recently published in PLoS Pathogens.

The study, which was conducted in ferrets, detailed how baloxavir reduced the transmission of influenza across all settings. Conversely, oseltamivir did not reduce the transmission of influenza to other ferrets. The study also compared the treatment to oseltamivir (Tamiflu), a widely prescribed influenza antiviral.

The study was completed by researchers at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Imperial College London.

First author Leo Yi Yang Lee, a medical scientist at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, believes the results are an important breakthrough in our understanding of managing the influenza virus.

“Our research provides evidence that baloxavir can have a dramatic dual effect: a single dose reduces the length of influenza illness, while simultaneously reducing the chance of passing it on to others,” Lee said.

“This is very important, because current antiviral drugs only treat influenza illness in the infected patient. If you want to reduce the spread of influenza to others, people in close contact need to take antiviral drugs themselves to stave off infection.”

Senior author Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said if the results of the study were replicated in humans, the discovery could be a game changer in stemming outbreaks of influenza, particularly amongst vulnerable groups.

“We know that influenza can have serious and devastating outcomes for people with compromised immune systems, such as those in care facilities and hospitals, where finding more ways to reduce transmission is essential,” Barclay said.