Flu - Choosing treatments

Flu is usually treated at home (see the practical help page home treatments for flu), although those who are prone to complications - the very young, older people and anyone with a chronicA disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. illness such as diabetes mellitusDisordered energy metabolism and high levels of glucose in the blood owing to a lack of insulin, or poor response of the body to insulin. - may need to be admitted to hospital. Bed rest and supportive care is key for people with this condition.[1]

Treatment of symptoms

As a general rule, if you have fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system., you are advised to rest until any fever has subsided. It is important to make sure you drink plenty of fluids (water is best), as having a fever can lead to dehydrationWater deficiency in the body..

To get the most from antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. drugs, it's best to begin any course of treatment within 2 days of the onset of symptoms

The relief of fever, body aches and headache can be helped with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Aspirin may be used in adults, but should be avoided in children - in many countries it is recommended that aspirin is not given to children under 16.[1]

Sometimes, if you have a troublesome cough, cough-suppression medication may help.[1]

Specific treatment to inhibit influenza viruses

Specific antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. medications that target the influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. are available, and are most often given to people who are at high risk of complications from their fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.. These medicines are also given to people during a pandemicAn outbreak of infection that affects numerous people in different countries. outbreak of fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system., as they may help to limit the further spread of infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites..[2] However, their value can be fairly limited, and so they are not always given routinely to everyone suffering from this illness.

To get the most from antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. drugs, it's best to begin any course of treatment within 2 days of the onset of symptoms.[3] In fact, taking the medication later in the course of the illness is not thought to have any benefits.[4]

If given early, antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. agents can reduce the severity of fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites., as well as reducing the duration of the illness - usually by around one to two and a half days.[2,4]

There are two main classes of drug available for fluA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.: ion channel blockersDrugs that prevent the passage of ions (electrically charged atoms) across cell membranes. and neuraminidase inhibitors.[3,5] Both classes of drug are thought to be similarly effective. Therefore if your doctor recommends that you take an antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. drug, in choosing which one he or she will usually take into consideration:

  • Any possible side-effects
  • Which virusesMicrobes that are only able to multiply within living cells. the medications target
  • Your age
  • The cost of the drug.[5]

The class of drug called ion channel blockersDrugs that prevent the passage of ions (electrically charged atoms) across cell membranes. is only effective against influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. type A. There is some concern that one of the medications in this class, amantadine, may encourage resistantA microbe, such as a type of bacteria, that is able to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs. strains of virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. - in other words, strains that are not susceptible to antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. medication.

The second class of drug, neuraminidase inhibitors, can be used to treat both influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. A and influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. B. These medications act by blocking the cellThe basic unit of all living organisms.-to-cellThe basic unit of all living organisms. spread of the virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells..[2,3,5]

Treatment of complications

Flu infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. can make people susceptible to a secondary bacterial respiratory infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. (often referred to as bacterial superinfectionAn infection arising during the course of another infection and caused by a different microorganism, which is usually resistant to the drugs used to treat the primary infection. The infective agent may be a normally harmless inhabitant of the body that becomes pathogenic when other harmless types are removed by the drugs or it may be a resistant variety of the primary infective agent.). If this is suspected, antibiotic treatment may be prescribed.[4]

References: 
  1. Stiver G. The treatment of influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. with antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. drugs. CMAJ. 2003;168:49-57.
  2. Ebell MH. Diagnosing and treating patients with suspected influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system.. Am Fam Physician. 2005;Nov 1;72:1789-92.
  3. Newton DW, Treanor JJ and Menegus MA. Clinical and laboratory diagnosisThe process of determining which condition a patient may have. of influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. infections. Am J Managed Care. 2000;6(suppl):S265-75.
  4. Fagan HB and Moeller AH. What is the best antiviralA substance that acts against viruses, for example and antiviral drug. agent for influenzaA viral infection affecting the respiratory system. infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites.? 2004;70:1331-2.
  5. Boon NA, Colledge NR and Walker BR. 'Davidson's principles and practice of medicine'. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. 2006; 20th edition.