HCN News & Notes

Flu Cases on the Rise; Antiviral Medications Can Help Some Sufferers

SPRINGFIELDDespite all the efforts to avoid the flu, inevitably some people will catch it. For those who do, antiviral medications may help. But what are antivirals? How do they work? Who should take them and when? The healthcare providers at American Family Care (AFC) explained what patients need to know.

“The first line of defense against the flu is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Andrew Koslow, associate medical director of AFC for Massachusetts. “Antiviral medications are a second line, when the vaccine doesn’t prevent infection or someone didn’t receive the vaccine. Antiviral medications are mostly used for severe cases of the flu or patients who are considered at high risk for flu-related complications.”

The general protocol for treating the flu consists of getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of water and other clear liquids, and taking over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and ibuprofen to reduce fever and relieve symptoms. However, in some cases, prescription antiviral medications are recommended.

Antiviral medications are always prescribed for flu patients who are hospitalized, have severe flu symptoms but are not in the hospital, meet certain age criteria, or have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications from the flu.

Sometimes antiviral medications are prescribed for cases of the flu diagnosed early (within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms) or for those who are exposed to high-risk populations either at home or work. Antiviral medications are sometimes prescribed to help prevent the flu for people who cannot receive the flu vaccine.

“When antiviral medications are recommended, patients should discuss all possible side effects and drug interactions with their doctor,” Koslow said. “Nausea and vomiting are possible, as are headaches. And certain other medications may reduce the effectiveness of antiviral medications.”

Koslow offered these reminders to reduce the spread of infections:

• Wash hands frequently with soap and water for two minutes and dry them thoroughly.

• Maintain social distancing and/or wear masks, especially at large, indoor gatherings.

• Stay home if you have symptoms such as fever, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, aches, chills, and fatigue.

• Regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, countertops, and faucets.