Your best defense against the flu is to get a flu shot, avoid people who are sick, and wash your hands frequently. But, if you are already showing symptoms of the flu, what can you do?
The flu is a virus and unfortunately there is no magic cure. The best you can do if you have the flu is to treat the symptoms and wait for it to run its course.
If you are able to see a doctor in the first 24 to 36 hours of symptom onset, you may be able to shorten the course of the virus by .9 to .5 of a day by taking an antiviral medication like Tamiflu, Relenza, Amantadine or Rimantadine. That might not sound like much relief, but if you have the flu you know that every hour spent not suffering is a blessing.
Tamiflu, Relenza, Amantadine and Rimantadine all act the same; they prevent viral shedding and inhibit virus replication. Since flu symptoms only last for about a week, you will not see any benefit by taking the medications late in the disease process, because by the time the drugs take effect, you will already be well.
In addition to shortening the length of the illness, these antivirals can also be extremely effective flu prevention. The antiviral drugs inhibit virus replication, so taking these medications in advance of symptoms can stop the flu in its tracks.
With or without antivirals, the best treatment for the flu is to minimize the symptoms by taking a fever reducer like acetaminophen, drinking fluids, getting plenty of rest, and unfortunately, just waiting it out.
Patrick Gregory is a pharmacist who provides in-office consultation to Wake Specialty Physicians Primary Care Practices.