Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Flu: When to Treat?

Yesterday, I had a discussion with some friends about whether or not to treat the flu with antiviral medications (Tamiflu or Relenza). Conveniently, today the CDC posted expert commentary on the latest guidelines, so I thought I'd share them with you.
Basically it boils down to this:

People at risk of more severe illness should definitely be treated: pregnant women, the very old or very young, people with underlying medical issues that suppress their immune system (cancer, HIV)
People with severe or rapidly progressive flu symptoms should be treated.
Anyone hospitalized should be treated.

For the rest of the public- the otherwise healthy, non-pregnant population- the CDC has wisely left it up to the DOCTOR's discretion, as long as treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The antiviral medications have been shown to shorten the course of the flu by one day, and can limit the severity of the flu. However, side effects often include significant nausea or vomiting, as well as headache. It really depends on how sensitive you are to side effects as to whether or not it is "worth it" to treat for the flu.

Don't forget, though, that prevention with the flu vaccine and consistent hand-washing are your best first lines of defense!

BOTTOM LINE: If you develop flu symptoms (fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and headaches), see your doctor quickly so if you ARE a candidate for antiviral therapy, you can start it with 48 hours of your symptoms.

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