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If You Get Sick…

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults.

While getting a flu vaccine each year is the best way to protect against flu, influenza antiviral drugs can fight against influenza, offering a second line of defense against the flu.

Antiviral Drugs

Antiviral drugs are an important second line of defense against the flu.

  • If you do get the flu, antiviral drugs are an important treatment option. (They are not a substitute for vaccination.)
  • Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body.
  • Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. This could be especially important for people at high risk.
  • For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).

There are four flu antiviral drugs approved for use in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued interim guidance on which antiviral drugs to use during the 2008-09 flu season: The four antiviral drugs are:

  • Oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu ®) is approved to both treat and prevent influenza A and B virus infection in people 1 year of age and older.
  • Zanamivir (brand name Relenza ®) is approved to treat influenza A and B virus infection in people 7 years of age and older and to prevent influenza A and B virus infection in people 5 years of age and older.
  • Amantadine (Symmetrel®, generic) is approved to treat and prevent only influenza A viruses in people older than 1 year of age.
  • Rimantadine (Flumadine®, generic) is approved to prevent only influenza A virus infection among people older than 1 year. It is approved to treat only influenza A virus infections in people 13 and older.

Antiviral drugs differ in terms of who can take them, how they are given, their dose (which can vary depending on a person’s age or medical conditions), and side effects.

For more information, see “Information for Health Care Professionals: Using Antiviral Agents for Seasonal Influenza” or consult the package insert for each drug. Your doctor can help decide whether you should take an antiviral drug this flu season and which one you should use.

If You Get Sick

Most healthy people recover from the flu without complications. If you get the flu:

  • Stay home from work or school.
  • Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
  • There are over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve the symptoms of the flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever).
  • Remember that serious illness from the flu is more likely in certain groups of people including people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions and young children.
  • Consult your doctor early on for the best treatment, but also be aware of emergency warning signs that require urgent medical attention.

Emergency Warning Signs

Seek emergency medical care if you or someone you know is having any of following warning signs discussed below.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Fever with a rash

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Seek emergency medical care if you or someone you know is experiencing any of the signs above.

Learn about Who Needs A Flu Vaccine.

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