Q. What can I do to protect myself against the flu?
By far, the single best way to prevent the flu is for individuals, especially persons at high risk for serious complications from the flu, to get a flu shot each fall.
Q. Who should get a flu shot?
The most important groups of persons who should get flu shots are those who are at highest risk for developing serious complications from the flu.
Q. Can antiviral drugs cure the flu?
Not exactly. When started within the first two days of illness, they can reduce the duration of the disease but cannot cure it outright.
Four different antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir) have been approved for treating the flu. All four drugs can reduce the duration of flu by about one day if taken within 2 days of when symptoms begin.
The four drugs differ in terms of side effects.
In some patients, amantadine (Symmetrel®, others) can cause symptoms such as nervousness, difficulty concentrating, or lightheadedness.
Rimantadine (Flumadine®) can also cause similar types of side effects, but less often. Caution is advised if zanamivir (Relenza®) is used by people who have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, because the airways of these people may suddenly grow smaller after using zanamivir, leading to difficulty breathing.
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) can cause nausea and vomiting in some people. All of these drugs must be prescribed by a doctor. These drugs are effective against flu viruses, but they are not effective against other viruses or bacteria that can cause symptoms similar to influenza. These drugs are not effective for treating bacterial infections that can occur as complications of influenza.
Q. Can antiviral medications prevent the flu?
Three of the antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, and oseltamivir) have been approved for prevention of the flu. These drugs are not, however, a substitute for influenza vaccination. All of these drugs are prescription drugs, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used for preventing the flu.