Treatment for the flu includes the following:
•Drink plenty of liquids
•Avoid using alcohol and tobacco
•Take medication to relieve the symptoms of flu (Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – and particularly fever – without first speaking to your doctor.)
Three antiviral drugs (amantadine [Symmetrel®], rimantadine [Flumadine®], and oseltamivir [Tamiflu®]) are approved for use in preventing the flu. These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before they are used.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four antiviral drugs (amantadine [Symmetrel®], rimantadine [Flumadine®], zanamavir [Relenza®], and oseltamivir [Tamiflu®]) for treatment of influenza. However, patients must begin taking an antiviral drug within 2 days after becoming sick.
When used in this manner, these drugs can reduce influenza symptoms and may shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. The drugs also may make you less contagious. All of these drugs must be prescribed by a doctor and taken for 3-5 consecutive days (5 days for oseltamivir and zanamivir). The 4 antiviral drugs are effective only against influenza viruses. They will not help symptoms associated with the common cold or many other influenza-like illnesses caused by viruses that circulate in the winter.
Three antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, and oseltamivir) are approved by the FDA and are commercially available for use in the United States to prevent influenza. All of these medications are prescription drugs, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used. When used for prevention, they are about 70% to 90% effective in preventing illness in healthy adults.
All of the antiviral drugs may be effective for influenza A viruses. However, only oseltamivir and zanamivir are effective for influenza B viruses.
All of the antiviral drugs are different in terms of who can take them, how they are given, any dosing changes based on age or medical conditions, and side effects. Your doctor can help decide whether you should take an antiviral drug and which one you should use.
Use of Antiviral Drugs
Antiviral drugs are most often used to help control influenza outbreaks in institutions (e.g., nursing homes, hospitals), where people at high risk for complications from influenza are in close contact with each other. Antivirals also have been used on cruise ships or similar settings to help control influenza outbreaks.
In the event of an outbreak, public health practice is to combine the use of influenza vaccine and antivirals. For example, nursing home residents and staff are given vaccine during an outbreak and also are given antivirals to prevent influenza until the vaccine takes effect (about 2 weeks). This practice continues as long as influenza is occurring in that setting.
Doctors also can prescribe influenza antivirals to people not living in institutional settings, but treatment must begin within 2 days of the onset of symptoms for the drugs to be effective. Although all antivirals lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of illness, only one (oseltamivir) has been shown in a study to reduce lower respiratory tract complications requiring antibiotics. They do not cure influenza outright.
When considering the use of antivirals it is important to remember that most healthy people recover from influenza without complications.