Researchers Amber Cardani, PhD, and Thomas J. Braciale, MD, PhD, have determined that early administration of two drugs commonly used to treat asthma and allergies may prevent a deadly form of viral pneumonia. Photo by Josh Barney/UVA Health System
Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A new study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has found that common asthma drugs may be effective in protecting against a deadly form of pneumonia.
Influenza pneumonia is caused by a virus and develops when the flu infection spreads to alveolar air sacs in the lower respiratory tract of the lungs.
"If infection is severe enough, and the immune response is potent enough, you get injury to these cells and are no longer able to get sufficient oxygen exchange," Dr. Thomas J. Braciale, Ph.D., UVA researcher and co-author of the study, said in a press release. "As a result of the infection of the cells, you can develop lethal pneumonia and die."
The study showed early administration of the asthma drugs Accolate and Singulair could prevent infection from spreading to the alveolar cells in the lower respiratory tract.
"The excitement of this is the possibility of someone coming to see the physician with influenza that looks a little more severe than usual and treating them with the drugs Singulair or Accolate and preventing them from getting severe pneumonia," Braciale said. "The fatality rate from influenza pneumonia can be pretty high, even with all modern techniques to support these patients. Up to 40 percent. So it's a very serious problem when it occurs."
Researchers found the alveolar epithelial cells are normally protected from influenza infection by immune cells known as alveolar macrophages. In some cases, however, the flu virus can prevent the macrophages from performing their protective function, allowing the epithelial cells to be vulnerable to infection.
"It's not as though they lack alveolar macrophages, it's just that their alveolar macrophages don't work right when they get exposed to the flu," Braciale said. "And those are the types of patients, who potentially would eventually go to the intensive care unit, that we think could be treated early in infection with Accolate or Singulair to prevent infection of these epithelial cells and prevent lethal infection."
The study was published in PLOS Pathogens.