Parainfluenza viruses can cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections especially in children. By the age of 5 years, almost all children will have been exposed to the virus. Symptoms range from mild cold-like syndromes to life-threatening pneumonias. The infections can be serious in very young children, the elderly, and in people with immune system deficiencies. There are no specific treatments available for parainfluenza infections. Identification of an antiviral drug that can reduce the viral load and presumably prevent symptoms from escalating would indeed be welcomed. But a story on a study in rats can tell you only so much about the drug in question.
Since this drug is not on the market, a discussion of cost is not warranted.
The story did not provide any data and did not tell us anything about the cells used or the number of rats included in the study.
The story suggests that the test drug, “…could stop the virus from replicating….” In actuality, the study drug reduced the viral load as compared to animals treated with a placebo. The story fails to note the small sample (20 rats total) and the limited time of treatment (3 days) before the animals were euthanized. The story fails to place the study results in context potentially giving the reader a false interpretation of the study.
The potential for harm is notably absent in the story. Now, the study design was such that toxicity could not be evaluated and as a result it was not addressed in the publication. However, the story should have noted that the harms of the drug are unclear at the present time.
To its credit, this story states upfront that the drug was tested in Petri dishes and on cotton rats. The story also includes the qualifier that “infection in rats does not follow the same disease course as in humans.” Another limitation mentioned by the writer is that the rats were given the drug an hour before they were infected with the parainfluenza, which is not likely to be the chain of events in the real world.
Of course why this is newsworthy given all these caveats is another question.
The story fails to note that parainfluenza virus infections do not cause serious disease in the majority of people. In doing so, it provides an overly disconcerting picture of the virus and its potential to cause serious illness. The failure to provide background information in combination with the initial quote of the lead author, “Therapies for parainfluenza are urgently needed," qualifies as disease-mongering.
The story fails in just about every aspect of this criterion. No experts in the field other than those involved in the research study are quoted. Interestingly, 6 of the 9 authors of the study are employees of NexBio, the company that produces the drug. One of the authors is listed as the inventor of the drug in an approved patent for its use in the treatment of influenza and parainfluenza. While these facts do not necessarily impugn the study result, failure to note them in the story is a major omission.
The story points out that there are no existing alternatives for preventing parainfluenza virus infections. In addition, the story briefly mentions other vaccines that have developed resistance to the flu virus.
The story makes it clear that this drug is not yet available.
The story mentioned that there is no existing vaccine or treatment for parainfluenza viruses. Furthermore, the story rightfully notes that the study drug works on the human cell and not directly on the virus and as such is a unique mechanism of action.
Not applicable because we can’t be sure of the extent to which the story may have been influenced by a news release. We do know that the researcher’s quote came from a statement, not from an interview. And the only other attributed comment came from a drug company spokesman.