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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

CDC Warns of Drug-Resistant Flu Bug

Tamiflu-Resistant Flu Bug Spreading in U.S.
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Tamiflu has been the most attractive treatment because it is taken in pill form and can be given to children as young as 1 year old.

Relenza comes in an inhaler. Children younger than 7 can't use it for treatment, and those younger than 5 can't use it for prevention. Moreover, Relenza sometimes causes lung spasms, so it can't be used by people with lung problems.

Ironically, the CDC's Tamiflu warning is not going to make a huge difference in how patients are treated because too few people get treated with flu drugs, says Joseph S. Bresee, MD, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch of the CDC's flu division.

"Even among hospital patients with the flu, more than half do not receive antiviral therapy," Bresee tells WebMD. "[Tamiflu] and [Relenza] are relatively underused at this point."

Bresee suggests that the current warning might actually increase use of flu drugs by making doctors more aware of how to use them.

Here's what the CDC now recommends:

  • Doctors should keep track of the subtypes of flu virus circulating in their areas. The CDC offers weekly updates based on reports from local and state health agencies.
  • When testing patients for the flu, doctors should consider using tests that can tell type A flu from type B flu.
  • Use Tamiflu alone only if the main flu bugs in the area are type A H3N2 or type B.
  • If drug-resistant virus is circulating in the area, use Relenza. In patients unable to take Relenza, doctors may use a combination of Tamiflu and Flumadine (or Symmetrel if Flumadine isn't available).

But here's the best advice: It's not too late to get a flu shot (or sniff, via the inhaled FluMist vaccine). Flu season rarely peaks before February -- and lots of people come down with the flu as late as March or April. So if you've been putting off getting your flu shot, now is the time to act.

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