It’s that time of year again. Time for school bells, falling leaves, icy
snow -- and the flu. With fall and winter comes flu season, so it’s time to
think about how to protect yourself and your family. What flu medications do
you need to stave off the fever and body aches? What can help you manage the
The most important tool to protect yourself from the flu, in fact, is not
antiviral flu medications -- although these can be very important -- but an
annual flu vaccine. Unlike in past years, when shortages limited the vaccines
to those at greatest risk, 2007 promises to be a banner year for the influenza
You have been so great about your new exercise routine, rarely missing a day since you started up again. Then all of a sudden you are waylaid by a cold or flu.
What should you do? Should you skip the treadmill or forsake that Pilates class for a late afternoon nap? Will it be hard to get started again if you skip a day or two?
“We are going to have an abundance of flu vaccine available this season, so
everyone can and should get one,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious
disease expert who chairs the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt
University Medical Center in Tennessee.
“Not just children, not just the elderly, everyone,” says Schaffner. “You
should make your appointment to get the vaccine now, but if you don’t get
vaccinated before Thanksgiving, there’s still time to do it. For the most part,
flu peaks in February, so even if you’ve carved the turkey already, it’s not
But some people don’t get vaccinated, and some flu strains duck around the
vaccine’s protection. What flu medicines are available to augment the vaccine
or treat you if you’re one of the unlucky ones to get sick anyway?
Antiviral Flu Medications on the Market
A total of four antiviral medications have been approved to both prevent and
treat the flu in the U.S. Two of them -- the oldest and, unfortunately, the
least expensive -- are no longer prescribed because common flu strains have
largely become resistant to them. That leaves the two newest, sold under the
brand names Tamiflu and Relenza.
These drugs must be prescribed by a physician, and can be given to most
people 1 year old or older who want to prevent or treat the flu. If you’re not
ill but have been exposed to someone who does have the flu, Tamiflu and Relenza
have been shown to be 70% to 90% effective in preventing flu this way (although
they’re still not a substitute for the vaccine).
These flu medicines can also be used to treat the flu, but the window in
which they’re effective is very small. If you begin taking the drugs within 48
hours of the onset of flu symptoms, they’ve been shown to reduce flu symptoms.
They also help lessen the total time you’re sick by one to two days, and they
may make you less contagious to others.