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Fighting Flu with Antiviral Drugs

Doctor listening to man's heart

Most of the United States is reporting widespread flu activity according to CDC. Flu activity is expected to continue nationally for a number of weeks. 

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? If you have not received a flu vaccine, it is not too late! Flu vaccines reduce the risk of flu illness and potentially serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization and death. Flu activity usually peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness.

Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against flu viruses in your body. They are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections. Antiviral drugs can lessen fever and flu symptoms, and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They also may reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, respiratory complications requiring antibiotics in adults, and hospitalization.

For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay. For adults hospitalized with flu illness, some studies have reported that early antiviral treatment can reduce their risk of death.

Patients at high risk of developing serious flu complications include pregnant women, people 65 years and older, and children younger than 5 years but especially younger than 2 years. High risk flu patients also include people with certain underlying medical conditions including heart disease and diabetes, people with neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions, and people with weakened immune systems.

Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when you take them within two days of getting sick. Starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition, or is very sick from flu. Doctors can choose to prescribe antivirals to treat people with mild flu illness who are not at high risk of flu complications if the patient has experienced flu symptoms for two days or less.

There’s a new antiviral drug available this flu season.

Baloxavir marboxil (trade name Xofluza®) is a new flu antiviral drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on October 24, 2018. Baloxavir joins oseltamivir (available as a generic or under the trade name Tamiflu®), zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®) as antiviral medications for treating flu. Baloxavir is a pill, given as a single dose by mouth.

Mother helping daughter wash hands

Handwashing can help prevent flu illness. Learn more about when and how to wash your hands here.

Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine.

Getting a flu vaccine is the first and best step you can take to prevent influenza. There are many benefits to flu vaccination. Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu, and reduce your risk of flu-associated complications including hospitalization. Flu vaccination can be life-saving in children. It can also help prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions such as heart and lung disease, and diabetes. Early treatment with antiviral drugs is important for people who are very sick with flu and people who get sick with flu who are at high risk of serious complications.

Bolster your flu fighting arsenal!

Good health habits can help stop the spread of flu. Everyday preventive actions include hand washing with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.  Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze. Use a disinfectant to clean surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with flu viruses. If you get sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

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