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  health > story pageAIDSAgingAlternative MedicineCancerChildrenDiet & FitnessMenWomen

New choices in flu treatment

October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 8:08 p.m. EDT (0008 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

Suffering from the flu?
These tips can help nurse you back to health.
  • description
  • risk
  • symptoms
  • treatment
  • prevention
    Source: WebMD

    (CNN) -- Treating the flu may now be as easy as taking a pill, but it is a pill that has to be taken every day for six weeks in order to work. The FDA approved the drug, Tamiflu, Wednesday.

    Tamiflu, generically known as oseltamivir, is the second in a new class of flu drugs that will hit the market this year. A similar flu drug, called Relenza, was approved for marketing in July.

    The flu is one of the oldest and most infectious diseases worldwide. Even though it can be prevented with a vaccine, it kills an average of 20,000 Americans each year. The medical community is hoping the introduction of new drugs will make this year different.

    A study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine shows Tamiflu can help most people avoid the flu.

    "What we found was that in those persons who received the drug either once a day or twice a day the drug was 74 percent effective in preventing symptomatic influenza," said Dr. Robert Atmar of the Baylor College of Medicine.

    Other studies have shown it knocks one or two days off the flu and reduces the severity of symptoms by almost half.

    With two new flu drugs that not only treat the flu but have also been shown to prevent it, and the commonly used flu vaccine, you may wonder how to choose which is right for you.

    "In terms of prevention, the flu vaccine is still the primary means of trying to prevent the flu and that's what people should take and remember," Atmar said.

    This is especially true for individuals at high risk, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

    Even with the flu vaccine, infectious disease experts say there is a need for alternatives.

    "In a season where the flu vaccine turns out not to be very effective against the strain of influenza circulating in the community, this drug may have a role," said Dr. Jay Steinberg of the Emory University School of Medicine.

    If you can't avoid the flu, you may have to choose between Relenza, which is inhaled, or the pill Tamiflu.

    "From the preliminary data and I want to stress that, these drugs are very new and we don't have a lot of experience with them, but from the preliminary studies they seem to be equally effective," said Steinberg.

    Experts predict it will take several flu seasons to discover the best use for these new flu fighters.

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    Emory University School of Medicine
    New England Journal of Medicine
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    CDC: Influenza Vaccine
    University of Michigan School of Public Health
    Food and Drug Administration
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