Health care providers can prescribe medicines to help fight the flu. These medicines are called antivirals and can be taken to treat or prevent the flu. For example, flu antivirals can be given to treat someone who just became sick (within 2 days).
When the medicines are given to someone who is already ill, the symptoms and time the person is sick can be reduced. On the other hand, these same flu antiviral medicines can be given to a well person who has been in contact with someone who has the flu. Although this does not prevent you from getting the flu, it does reduce your chances of catching it and passing it on to others. By no means should these antiviral medicines be used in place of the flu vaccine.
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Currently, there are four licensed antivirals against influenza A and B in the United States. However, only 2 of them are recommended by the CDC as a result of emerging influenza A resistance to the other two, amantadine and rimantadine:
- Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) is for treating and preventing influenza A and B virus infections in adults and children 1 year and older.
- Relenza® (zanamivir) is for treating influenza A and B virus infections in children 7 years and older and adults who have an uncomplicated flu infection and who have had symptoms for no more than 2 days. Relenza is also used to prevent flu infections in people 5 years and older.
For these medicines to work well, you must take them within 48 hours after the symptoms of flu appear. These medicines can reduce the length of time that a fever and other symptoms last, and allow you more quickly to return to your daily routine.
Zanamivir and oseltamivir are the first of a new class of antiviral drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors.
The surfaces of influenza viruses are dotted with neuraminidase proteins. Neuraminidase, an enzyme, breaks the bonds that hold new virus particles to the outside of an infected cell. Once the enzyme breaks these bonds, this sets free new viruses that can infect other cells and spread infection. Neuraminidase inhibitors block the enzyme’s activity and prevent new virus particles from being released, thereby limiting the spread of the infection.
Antiviral medicines should be considered for people 1 year and older who want to be treated or avoid the flu and its complications. Health care providers should also consider those at high risk of flu complications. These medicines are an important step in fighting flu, but do not replace the best defense, which is the flu vaccine.
People allergic to these drugs or their ingredients should not take them.
Zanamivir generally is not recommended for people with chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In clinical studies, some patients with mild or moderate asthma or COPD had bronchospasm (wheezing) after taking zanamivir. If you have an underlying respiratory disease and have been prescribed zanamivir, your health care provider should instruct you to have a fast-acting inhaled bronchodilator available for use when taking zanamivir.
The dosage of oseltamivir may need to be adjusted if you have any type of kidney disease.
None of these drugs is recommended for routine use during pregnancy or nursing. These drugs have not been evaluated in pregnant women, and researchers do not know the effects these drugs could have on the unborn child.
In the laboratory and in limited clinical studies, there have been no reported interactions of the neuraminidase inhibitors with other drugs.
For complete safety information about these drugs, talk with your pharmacist or health care provider.
Studies have shown that all four drugs can reduce the duration of flu symptoms by 1 day if taken within 2 days of the onset of the illness. There is no information about how effective these drugs are if treatment is started more than 2 days after the onset of flu symptoms.
When taken as directed to prevent the flu, oseltamivir can significantly reduce your chance of getting the disease if there is a flu outbreak in your family or community.
The main way to keep from getting flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine. You can get the vaccine at your health care provider’s office or a local clinic, and in many communities at workplaces, supermarkets, and drugstores. You must get the vaccine every year because it changes.
How do you prevent yourself from getting sick? Read Ways To Avoid The Flu and Tips on How Senior Can Avoid Getting Sick. If you want to stay informed and know the answers to the commonly asked questions about the swine flu, read Facts About The Swine Flu.
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