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A second World War drug could help prevent flu deaths

Doctor giving a flu vaccine injection to a child.

Researchers have found a drug that dates back to the second World War could help prevent flu deaths.It's a timely finding by scientists, with almost three hundred reported fatalities from the virus this year, in part down to an earlier-than-usual start to the flu season.

Probenecid was a drug used in World War II to treat wounded soldiers on the front.

It prolonged the life of the then newly-discovered wonder antibiotic penicillin.

75 years later, scientists now say it could be employed in a modern battle, fighting the increasing number of deaths and hospitalisations from the flu.

Probenecid is one of two potential anti-flu drugs studied by scientists at Melbourne's Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

Dr Michelle Tate, whose study was published in the prestigious British Journal of Pharmacology, is excited by the possible application of the drug, which is currently used to treat gout.

And therefore stopping the attack on tissue and organs in its tracks.

The second drug analysed for its potential is known by the not-so-catchy title of A-Z double one, six four five three seven three. 

It's currently being trialled for treating inflammatory diseases like arthritis, but researchers say it, too, could help in the flu fight.

Dr Tate says both drugs target ATP receptor P2X7, a molecule in humans that plays a key role in inducing inflammation.

It has already been cleared by authorities for human use.

It could be a significant breakthrough, with deadly flu outbreaks becoming more frequent around the world.

Dr Tate says in Australia this year, flu season started early.

South Australia has been particularly hard hit.

82, mostly elderly, people have died in the state so far this year with the total number of flu cases closing in on 20,000.

At the same time last year, there had been just 1500 confirmed cases.

It's prompted opposition calls for a review of the government's handling of the flu season, including the adequacy of vaccine supplies.

Nationwide, it's estimated at least 300 people have died from the flu, but experts say there is some good news.

They say because of the early start to the season, they predict the number of cases will soon begin to decline.

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