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:
- Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with someone who is sick. Wash your hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol-based cleaners on your hands is also helpful.
- Avoid close contact with people who have respiratory infections.
- Do not share drinks or personal items.
- Do not bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Keep surfaces clean by wiping them with a household disinfectant.
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:
- Oseltamivir—an oral medication for the prevention and treatment of influenza A and B (Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.)
- Zanamavir—an inhaled drug for the treatment of influenza A and B (This may worsen asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD].)
- Amantadine—an oral medication for the prevention and treatment of influenza A (Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.)
- Rimantadine—an oral medication similar to amantadine but with fewer side effects, also for the prevention and treatment of influenza A (Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.)
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.
National Center for Infectious Diseases
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Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/1/2014