Researchers writing in BMC Infectious Diseases say their numerical model of influenza transmission and treatment suggests that if a H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic behaves like the 1918 flu, antiviral treatments should be reserved for the young.

They argue that providing the elderly with antiviral drugs would not significantly reduce mortality, and may lead to an increase in resistance.   This is not a case of young researchers doing social engineering.  H1N1 swine flu has also impacted the young much more than the old, the reverse of traditional flu.

Stefano Merler of the Bruno Kessler Foundation it Italy worked with researchers from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità to model the effect of antiviral treatment on the spread of influenza. He said, "Although it is too early to confidently predict some important features of the ongoing influenza pandemic, the use of antivirals is confirmed to be the most effective single intervention, in the absence of vaccines. It requires, however, a very large stockpile of antiviral drugs. Our work demonstrates that even in countries where the antiviral stockpile is not sufficient to treat 25% of the population, the minimum level suggested by the WHO, it is possible to reduce morbidity and excess mortality by prioritizing the use of antivirals by age." 

Merler and colleagues modeled the effects of flu outbreaks of varying virulence and found that, depending on the behavior of the virus, treatment of people over age 65 may not lead to any significant reduction in the cumulative number of cases

"Although a policy of age-specific prioritization of antiviral use will be controversial ethically, it may be the most efficient use of stockpiled therapies. This is of particular importance for countries where the amount of drug stockpiled is well below the WHO's suggested level."

Obtaining early estimates of the overall impact of the epidemic and of age-specific case fatality rates can thus be crucial for optimizing the use of antivirals during the ongoing influenza pandemic.

Article: Stefano Merler, Marco Ajelli and Caterina Rizzo, 'Age-prioritized use of antivirals during an influenza pandemic',  BMC Infectious Diseases