Tis the season for flu prevention and treatment

Last Modified: 11/04/2019


This post was written by Michael Genday, PharmD, Parkview Health.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. The flu usually causes mild symptoms such as fatigue and fever but can quickly progress to a more severe illness and, at times, lead to hospitalization or even death. There are two main types of influenza: A and B. Both viruses affect humans and are responsible for the flu season, which typically peaks in the United States between October and February. It is also important to note that the flu is not a bacterial infection and will not respond to antibiotics.

How can the flu be contracted?

The flu is commonly spread when respiratory droplets, produced by coughing, sneezing or talking, are put into the air by an infected person. These particles can be transmitted up to 6 feet away and typically land in a person’s mouth or nose, and on surfaces where they can be contracted through contact. The flu is highly contagious, especially within the first three days; however, an individual can still be contagious up to seven days after becoming ill.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu since they share many of the same symptoms. To know if you truly have the flu, your doctor would need to run a test that can positively identify the presence of the influenza virus.

The Flu

  • Sudden and quick onset
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Chills and sweats
  • Cough and congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Common Cold

  • Develop slowly and gradually worsens
  • Mild body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Cough and congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
What precautions can be taken to prevent infection or the spread of the flu?

The best prevention against contracting the flu is getting a yearly flu vaccine. Unless there is a severe contraindication, everyone over the age of 6 months is recommended to receive the flu shot. This can be done at a doctor’s office or any pharmacy.

Other ways of preventing the flu include practicing good health habits like frequent hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces, and avoiding contact with others who may have the flu.

In addition to practicing good health habits, your doctor may prescribe you an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu to aid in the prevention or treatment of your flu symptoms.

What is Tamiflu® and how does it work?

Tamiflu is a prescription antiviral medication that has been FDA approved to treat and prevent influenza A and B in people two weeks of age or older. Tamiflu works by targeting viral influenza cells and prevents them from replicating, allowing the body to recover from the infection at a faster rate. With that said, Tamiflu will not work against bacterial infections and is not recommended to treat the common cold or other viral illnesses.

When and how should I take Tamiflu?

Tamiflu has different instructions depending on how it is being used, but for best results, it should be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. If taken after 48 hours, results may be limited and could vary. Your healthcare provider will tell you how to take Tamiflu and it is recommended that you take it exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes.

What are the most common side effects of Tamiflu?

The most common side effects of Tamiflu are nausea and vomiting. Usually, the nausea and vomiting are not severe and happen within the first two days. Taking Tamiflu with food can help lessen the chance and severity of these side effects.

Is Tamiflu a substitute for the flu shot?

No, receiving your yearly flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu.

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