Flu season outbreaks occur every year, sometimes reaching epidemic levels during a season. The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. However, if you did not get the flu shot or if you do find yourself sick, your doctor may prescribe medications to help relieve your symptoms. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, answers questions about available flu treatments.
Q: What medications are available to treat the flu?
Dr. Samuel: Medications to stop or slow the flu virus are called antivirals. Antivirals work best when you start taking them within two days of experiencing flu symptoms, such as a fever, cough, sore throat, aches and nasal congestion. The most common antiviral to treat the flu is Tamiflu. Recently, the FDA approved Xofluza, a single-dose pill for teens and adults that can reduce your symptoms and sick time. While these medicines may help you feel better faster, they will not cure your condition.
Q: Who can take antiviral medicines?
Dr. Samuel: Antiviral drugs are typically prescribed to high-risk patients or those with a more serious case of the flu. Those with a mild case of the flu who are otherwise healthy may not need the help of antiviral medication. Those at risker risk for developing serious health complications from the flu include:
- Pregnant women
- Adults over the age of 65
- Young children
- People with a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes and heart, kidney and liver disease
- A weakened immune system
Q: Are antivirals a good alternative to the flu shot?
Dr. Samuel: There is no alternative to the flu shot. It is the most effective way to prevent the flu and is recommended for everyone. If you haven’t received a flu shot this year, there is still time. In Maryland, flu season starts around October and ends around March. The vaccine takes about two weeks to fully protect you, so it’s best to get vaccinated early. If you do get the flu, antivirals are a treatment option along with rest and fluids.
Q: What are other nonprescription treatments to consider?
Dr. Samuel: If you start to develop flu symptoms the best treatment is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids and stay home. Staying home will prevent the spread of the virus and ensure you get the rest you need. The flu generally lasts from one to two weeks, but the more severe symptoms should start to ease after the first few days. There are also over-the-counter medications that can help relieve your symptoms such as fever, congestion and body aches. Talk to your doctor about what medication you should take.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration