Naproxen is already a popular over-the-counter treatment for arthritis pain, but a new study that will appear in the May 2013 journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy suggests that it also acts as an antiviral. The French researchers tested it both in cell tissue and in mice against the influenza A virus.
There is only one species of influenza A, a seasonal virus often founds in birds, animals, and people, but there are many strains. The vaccine has to be prepared in advance and sometimes offers only partial protection against the disease.
For instance, in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that this winter's flu vaccine had only about a 62 percent efficacy against the virus.
Also in January, America's three largest health insurance companies -- UnitedHealth, WellPoint, and Aetna -- reported that they had spent $100 million extra for flu costs this season, compared to 2011 and 2010. In an average year, the flu costs Americans about $10 billion in direct costs like medical care and indirect costs like lost work days.
Needless to say, it would be nice to have another weapon in the battle against the flu -- especially an inexpensive, already FDA-approved medicine like naproxen. Better known to many people under the popular brand name, Aleve®, the drug is currently widely prescribed and also taken over the counter for arthritis and chronic pain.
All painkillers, including naproxen, do present risks. The researchers aren't suggesting that you blindly take an over-the-counter drug if you think you have the flu. You still need to get checked out by a doctor.
And they still plan further research, including the investigation of ways to transform the chemicals in naproxen to make them more effective in fighting viruses.
But if the study holds up, we could soon have a new way to treat the flu using naproxen or its relatives.
[flu photo courtesy James Gathany and CDC Public Health]