The swine flu is making its way around the country with symptoms such as fever, sore throat and aches, similar to the seasonal flu. As with the seasonal flu, treatment is available to help make those with the flu more comfortable.
There are two main antiviral medications currently prescribed to treat symptoms of the swine flu. Tamiflu and Relenza both help to reduce symptoms and lessen the risk of complications, although neither will cure the flu. These medications are prescription medications. You cannot obtain these over the counter. You must have a doctor's prescription to purchase either medication.
Most people that get swine flu, however, won't need or get antiviral medications. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the "priority use for these drugs this season is to treat people who are very sick (hospitalized) or people who are sick with flu symptoms and who are at increased risk of serious flu complications, such as pregnant women, young children, people 65 and older and people with chronic health conditions."
For those needing antiviral medications, both Tamiflu and Relenza should be started within 48 hours of the onset of swine flu symptoms. Although in some cases, such as if a patient is hospitalized or is at a high risk of developing severe complications or if the person is exhibiting symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain/pressure, dizziness, or confusion, these medications can be started after 48 hours.
Who Can Take Antiviral Medications?
Tamiflu has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children under the age of 12 months. However, due to the concerns with the swine flu outbreak, this medication may be used for infants under an Emergency Use Authorization. It has been approved for use in all children (over 12 months) and adults. Tamiflu is available in either liquid or capsule form.
Women who are pregnant are at high risk of developing complications from the flu and should be treated immediately if they develop signs of the swine flu. At this time, no studies have shown a risk for women who are pregnant from antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu or Relenza. Tamiflu would be the first choice of medication for women who are pregnant.
Side Effects of Antiviral Medications
Side effects of Tamiflu include:
- Nausea or vomiting
These side effects are most often felt during the first two days of treatment and can be reduced if the medication is taken with food.
Side effects of Relenza include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Nausea or diarrhea
Because Relenza can also cause wheezing or trouble breathing, it should not be taken by anyone with breathing problems, such as asthma or lung disease.
Occasionally, people have reported confusion or abnormal behavior with both Tamiflu and Relenza. Because these symptoms can also appear with the flu, it is not clear whether they are caused by the medication or by the flu. If you are taking either medication and are having difficulty thinking clearly or feel confused, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Over-the-counter medications, such as fever reducers and cold medications can be used to help lesson symptoms and make you feel better. According to the CDC, there are some precautions before taking these types of medications:
- Children and teens with the flu should never be given aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid) or any medication containing aspirin as this can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious illness. Be sure to check all labels to make sure any cold or flu medications you may have or purchase do not contain aspirin.
- Children over the age of 5 can take over-the-counter fever and pain reducers, such acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Over the counter cold and flu medication can be used according to package directions. These medications will not help to lessen the amount of time someone has symptoms of the flu or how infectious a person is, but may help to reduce symptoms to help someone with the flu feel better.
- Speak with your doctor or pediatrician before giving a child younger than 4 years old over-the-counter cold or flu medication.
- Always check the package label to check the ingredients of the medication. Do not take any additional acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the cold or flu medication already contains these ingredients.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications, for the flu or for any other medical condition. These medications can interfere with the effectiveness of other prescriptions or may cause dangerous interactions. Be sure to check to make sure you are able to safely combine medications.
2009 H1N1 and Seasonal Flu: What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs, 2009, Centers for Disease Control
Interim Guidance for 2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home, 2009, Sept 24, Centers for Disease Control
Published On: December 19, 2009