In a paper in the journal Science, Regoes and Bonhoeffer describe the outcomes from two model scenarios. In one scenario, only people showing virus symptoms are given antiviral drugs. In the other case, all people who may have been exposed to the virus are given the medication.
The researchers found that the less the drugs are used, the lower the chances of a resistant strain of a virus emerging.
"If you hit a large proportion of the population, then the selection pressure on the virus to form mutations is quite high," Bonhoeffer explained.
Weighing the Risks
Nonetheless, Regoes and Bonhoeffer believe that antiviral drugs are still very important if a viral pandemic occurs.
"This doesn't mean that we should refrain from using them, but that we need to be more prepared for the development of resistant transmissible viruses, a risk that has perhaps been previously downplayed," Bonhoeffer said.
The new findings are backed up by instances in which antiviral drugs have been used extensively to tackle diseases like malaria and HIV.
"Usually, resistant strains come, with a certain time delay, but they still come. That is the sad reality," Bonhoeffer said.
The scientists stress that before their results can be used for public health planning, they need to do more large-scale models that take into account some of the complexities of the real world.
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