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4. How do prescription flu medications work?

The prescription drugs Tamiflu and Relenza were developed to cut short a bout with flu. They help shorten recovery time by one or two days.

Tamiflu and Relenza work best when taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. However, clinical studies show the drugs still offer benefits when treatment starts more than 48 hours after symptoms begin. These drugs can also be taken to help prevent the flu if you're been exposed to the virus.

5. Should I get an antibiotic?

Antibiotics will not help treat the flu or a cold. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but they do not kill any viruses, including viruses that cause the flu or colds.

However, the flu can weaken the immune system and open the door for bacterial infections. If your flu starts to get better and then gets worse, you may have a bacterial infection. See a doctor right away. Antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

6. When should I see a doctor?

If your symptoms are severe or aren't getting better after a week or if you have fever for more than 3 days, see a doctor. Also call a doctor right away if you have any chronic medical conditions and are exposed to the flu or develop any of the symptoms. Moreover, if an infant or young child has a fever or develops symptoms of the flu, get medical help. 

These symptoms are signs that flu may have developed into something serious like pneumonia. See a doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent fever
  • Vomiting or inability to keep fluids down
  • Painful swallowing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Persistent congestion and headaches

7. Why are people so concerned about the flu?

Because the flu virus can infect the lungs, it can cause a serious infection like pneumonia. And that's what worries people. If the flu develops into pneumonia, it may require hospitalization and can even lead to death. People with weak immune systems -- the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and people with chronic health problems -- are at highest risk of flu complications such as pneumonia.

8. Can flu shots cause the flu?

The flu shot is made from dead viruses and cannot "give" you the flu. However, the vaccine can trigger an immune response from your body, so you may have a few mild symptoms, like achy muscles or a low-grade fever.

The nasal flu vaccine, FluMist, is made with a weakened live virus. It also cannot give you the flu, but is more likely to cause symptoms such as achy muscles or a low fever. It's recommended as an option only for nonpregnant, healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49.

9. What can I do to prevent the flu?

Flu and cold viruses are transmitted the same way -- through microscopic droplets from an infected person's respiratory system. That person sneezes or coughs, and droplets are sprayed onto any nearby surface -- or person. If they cough or sneeze into their hands (without a tissue), their hands then carry droplets to surfaces they touch. You touch that surface and pick up the virus. If you rub your eyes or nose, you've just infected yourself.