Even with modern vaccination efforts, the flu infects many people each year. And while most of us just suffer through it and feel better in a week or so, the flu also causes deaths and sends many people to the hospital. While vaccination remains the best method of control, there are other methods of treatment and prevention. Certainly, you can make efforts to keep your immune system strong and reduce your risk of exposure to viruses. Furthermore, certain antiviral drugs can help you shorten the duration and severity of the flu if and when it does strike. These medications are sometimes prescribed to prevent new infections as well.
Aside from a flu shot, what else can you do to protect yourself from the flu?
Reduce Your Risk of Infection
There are general measures you can take to reduce your risk of getting or spreading the flu:
It is also a good idea—as always—to get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, drink plenty of water, engage in regular exercise, and find ways to manage stress in your life. This will keep your immune system strong throughout the cold and flu season.
Give Antiviral Medications a Shot
Besides the flu vaccine, antiviral medications are used to both prevent and treat the flu. They may be used to prevent the flu in certain high-risk people exposed to the flu. Antiviral drugs work by inhibiting the spread of the virus within the upper respiratory tract. The following prescription drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and available in the United States:
As treatment, they can reduce symptoms of the flu and shorten its duration. The sooner they are given, usually within 48 hours of the start of symptoms, the more effective they are. These drugs can also make you less contagious to others.
Possible side effects range from nausea to unusual behavior, depending on the drug. Additionally, these drugs are not advised for all people or all age groups. Like any prescription drug, you will need to discuss your medical history with your doctor before deciding if an antiviral drug is right for you. All antivirals must be prescribed by a doctor.
Antiviral drugs for prophylaxis and treatment of influenza. Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2005;47:93.
Fiore AE, Shay DK, Haber P, et al. Prevention and control of influenza. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2007. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2007;56:1.
FluMist 60,000-patient phase IV safety study to be conducted with Kaiser. In: The Pink Sheet. Chevy Chase, MD: FDC Report; 2003: 3.
Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 31, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2016.
Influenza vaccines in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 27, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2016.
Seasonal influenza (flu). United States Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu. Updated June 29, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2016.
Preventing the flu: Good health habits can help stop germs. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm. Updated July 31, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2016.
Influenza vaccination or antiviral treatment for healthy working adults (summaries for patients). Ann Intern Med. 2002;137:I-22.
Live, intranasal influenza VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/flulive.html. Updated August 7, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2016.
Stephenson J. Progress treating, preventing influenza. JAMA. 1998; 280:1729-1730.
Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/1/2014