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The Latest Flu Treatments Explained

 The FDA has just approved a new form of antiviral medication called baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) for people aged 12 and over. The drug is a single-dose oral medication and works by preventing the flu virus from spreading all over your body. Its creator, Genentech, claims that it fights a whole range of flu viruses, including those resistant to other flu treatments and to bird flu strains.

 

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Oseltamivir is available both as a generic version or under the trade name of Tamiflu. The latter was initially approved way back in 1999, and the FDA eventually approved a generic version in 2016. It's available in liquid suspension or pill form and is typically prescribed twice a day for 5 days. It can also be prescribed for flu prevention, in which case it’s taken once daily for seven days.

Zanamivir (Relenza) is a powder that’s inhaled, and the FDA has claimed that it is safe for children 7 years old and above, and is normally taken twice daily for five days. Finally, peramivir (Rapivab) is given intravenously, is safe for children aged two and over, and is administered once time for 15 to 30 minutes.

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Who Are These Drugs For?

The people who should most strongly consider taking one of these new medications are:

• Hospitalized flu patients
• People who already have the flu
• People over 65
• Children under 5
• Pregnant women
• New mothers
• Native Americans and Alaska Natives
• People suffering from asthma or organ diseases
• Obese people
• Diabetics
• People with weakened immune systems, such as from cancer, AIDS or HIV

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What Side Effects Are There?

Patients on these antivirals typically report nausea as side effects. Other side effects may include headaches and common cold symptoms. When it comes to kids, Tamiflu has been connected to some psychiatric side effects. These could include irritability and occasional seizures. However, these symptoms normally go away when the drug is stopped.

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How Effective Are They?

Your mileage may vary, but most professionals say that the drugs shorten the flu by around a day or so. The FDA approval of Xofluza was based on studies which compared it to a placebo and with oseltamivir (Tamiflu). In a particular study, which included over 1,000 patients, the median time to symptom improvement was around 54 hours with Xofluza and 80 with a placebo.

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What Alternatives Are There?

Many people swear by home remedies, such as putting onions in your socks or consuming elderberry. Proponents claim that the onion's acidic compounds kill the nasty flu virus, while elderberry proponents claim that it eases symptoms. However, "there is currently no strong scientific evidence that any natural product is useful against the flu," according to the National Institutes of Health.

"In terms of natural products, I don't give a recommendation for them," says Paul Auwaerter, MD, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Sherrilyn and Ken Fisher professor of medicine. However, he also notes that he understands that ''people often feel better doing something than nothing."

This is why the only alternative treatment that healthcare professionals usually provide are fever reducers such as acetaminophen, bed rest, and plenty of fluids.

Hydration is crucially important, according to William Schaffner, MD, a professor of infectious diseases and preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. "You frequently are so ill you have to rouse yourself from your bed of thorns and make yourself drink fluids. Water is fine, flavored or sparkling. Alcohol doesn't count. Coffee and tea don't count, they have caffeine [and are dehydrating]." This is a particularly important point since Schaffner says that "dehydration predisposes you to pneumonia," which is the last thing that someone with the flu needs.

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