Many great resources to combat flu

February 7, 2013

Is it still worth it to get a flu shot? “Yes” is the short answer. As many people have heard from recent news reports, we are in a flu epidemic. Lab-confirmed flu testing has put the number of positive patients on par this year to break records set by the H1N1 flu epidemic of 2009.

Nobody wants to get sick and then have to deal with the consequences of illness. The costs of becoming ill from the flu can add up. There is lost productivity at work, medical bills incurred trying to treat the flu, and then collateral damage from infecting family and friends. So, the question remains, what should be done to avoid illness?

The flu vaccine is still your best bet. Start by taking every day actions to prevent the spread of germs like avoiding contact with sick people, hand washing with soap and water, and covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze to block the spread of droplets. However, aside from these simple remedies, there is no other preventative option besides the vaccine.

Flu vaccines that are available at pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals are as simple as a one-time shot that builds your body’s own immunity to the viral particle. Your body takes about two weeks to build immunity to the flu. Therefore, you should get one as soon as possible so you can begin to develop immunity right away.

If you have other medical problems, such as diabetes, COPD, asthma, heart failure, or chronic lung problems, you should get a flu shot without hesitation. Otherwise, a simple cold can exacerbate your underlying medical issues, and treatment with antibiotics at home instead turns into a few nights in the hospital.

If you get the flu, there are antiviral drugs that can be used for treatment. If they are used right away, they can shorten the time you are sick by 1 to 2 days. They can also prevent complications like pneumonia.

Currently there are two, FDA-approved antiviral drugs that can be used for the flu. The first is Tamiflu® (generic name is oseltamivir), which comes as a pill or liquid. The second is Relenza® (generic name is zanamivir), which is available as a powder for inhalation. Both drugs need to be started as soon as symptoms become apparent to be effective. Treatment should start within two days of any symptoms and continue for usually five days. If the course is not started early, or the full course is not given, the benefit of these medications is severely decreased.

Medication use is not a requirement for the flu, though. With the flu being so widespread this year, demand for these drugs has already surged, creating shortages across the nation. Most otherwise-healthy people will be able to overcome the flu without the help of these medications. Treatment with antiviral flu medications should be reserved for the sickest of patients and those who are at high risk of becoming ill from serious flu complications because of age or another underlying medical condition.

If you’d like more information on the flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lots of great resources that can be accessed online at: You can also find a local cache of flu shots available near you by searching your zip at:

Here’s to your health!

William Albanese
clinical pharmacist
Beebe Medical Center
Part-time pharmacist
Cape Pharmacy

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