The normal treatment for flu is rest and plenty of liquids. Treatment also includes ways to prevent spreading the flu virus, such as proper handwashing, keeping common surfaces clean, and coughing or sneezing into your arm or sleeve.
Medications for specific symptoms can help. Cough suppressants can be used for cough. Acetylsalicylic acid* (ASA), ibuprofen, or acetaminophen can be used to treat symptoms of the flu, such as aches and fever. Children and teenagers with flu shouldn't take ASA or other salicylates (medications related to ASA, such as salsalate or magnesium salicylate). The combination of influenza and ASA is linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious condition affecting the brain and liver. Many over-the-counter cold medications contain ASA or other salicylates. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about this.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like flu and the cold, but they are prescribed for complications such as bacterial infections.
Antiviral medications are sometimes used to treat the flu. These medications can help shorten the duration of the flu and reduce symptoms if they are taken within 2 days of the start of symptoms. Antiviral medications are also recommended to prevent flu infection for some people. Antivirals can be used to prevent flu in children and adults after they come into close contact with a person who has the flu, such as flu-infected people who live in the same household. Generally, this is not recommended for most people; however, antivirals may be recommended for people at risk for flu complications. In these situations, antiviral medications should be started as soon as possible after becoming exposed to the person with the flu. Your doctor can decide whether you should start antiviral medications.
Amantadine is an antiviral but is usually not recommended for influenza A treatment because many of these viruses are resistant to it. However, if tests show the virus to be sensitive to amantadine, it can shorten the duration of symptoms if taken within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms appearing. It can also be used to prevent type A flu in certain circumstances. It carries some risk of side effects, including insomnia and confusion. Amantadine does not work against type B viruses.
Zanamivir and oseltamivir are antiviral medications that can be used to treat and prevent influenza A. They prevent newly formed viruses from escaping the infected cells that produced them. This limits further spread of the virus in the body. Zanamivir is an inhaled spray, whereas oseltamivir is a pill. Taken within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of illness, these medications reduce the duration of symptoms by an average of 1 to 3 days.
Flu antibodies can prevent the flu. The only ways to generate antibodies are to be infected or to get vaccinated. Because the flu viruses can change from year to year, vaccination needs to be repeated every year.
Each spring, a worldwide network of physicians and testing labs decide which flu strains are likely to cause trouble and design that year's vaccine accordingly. The vaccine gives resistance to the type B strain and the two type A strains that are expected to predominate in the coming flu season.
The effectiveness of the vaccine can vary from season to season, which means there is still a chance that you can get the flu – although your symptoms may be milder. The flu vaccine is given to anyone classified as high risk for flu complications, and for people who are caregivers, health workers, and anyone who wants to avoid the flu. The flu vaccine is paid for by the government in some Canadian provinces, and universal vaccination is encouraged.
High-risk groups for flu complications include:
- anyone aged 65 years or older
- young children under 5 years old (especially if they are less than 2 years old)
- people with underlying medical conditions, including people with:
- asthma and other chronic lung diseases (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], cystic fibrosis)
- heart disease (e.g., coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease)
- chronic kidney or liver disease
- a weakened immune system (immunocompromised), which can be caused by:
- HIV/AIDS, an infection that attacks the immune system
- medications for certain conditions, such as:
- organ transplants: steroids, medications that suppress the immune system to prevent it from rejecting the organ (e.g., cyclosporine, tacrolimus, mycophenolate mofetil)
- cancer: chemotherapy
- certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis: steroids, biologics (medications that modify the response of the immune system, such as adalimumab or infliximab), medications that suppress the immune system to prevent it from attacking the body (e.g., methotrexate, azathioprine)
- Crohn's disease: steroids, biologics (see above), or medications to suppress the immune system
- blood disorders (e.g., anemia, sickle cell anemia)
- neurologic and neurodevelopmental disorders that affect their ability to swallow and breathe
- morbid obesity (BMI of 40 or higher)
- residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities, regardless of age
- children receiving long-term ASA therapy
- pregnant women (especially if they are in their second or third trimester) and women who were recently pregnant (within the last 6 weeks)
- Aboriginal peoples
People who should not receive a flu shot include children less than 6 months of age and people who have had an allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine.
The injectable flu shot (but not the nasal spray) has been shown to be safe for many people with egg allergies. Your doctor will need to assess whether you should have a flu shot if you are allergic to eggs. Be sure to tell your health care provider about this and any other allergies you may have before you are given your flu shot.
You can reduce your risk of getting the flu by washing your hands regularly using soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your sleeve. Dispose of the tissue right away. If you have flu symptoms, stay home from work or school and avoid contact with people who are at a high risk of flu complications (e.g., seniors, nursing home residents).
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2017. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/condition/getcondition/Influenza