Treatments for Flu

To treat colds or flu, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. If you have the flu, pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can reduce fever or aches. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines or decongestants.

Be careful to avoid “drug overlap” when taking medicines that list 2 or more active ingredients on the label. For example, if you take 2 different drugs that contain acetaminophen—one for a stuffy nose and the other for headache—you may be getting too much acetaminophen.

“Read medicine labels carefully—the warnings, side effects, dosages. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, especially if you have children who are sick,” Hauguel says. “You don’t want to overmedicate, and you don’t want to risk taking a medication that may interact with another.”

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)1

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Back to: « Flu

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Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)2

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If you do get sick, get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids like water and soup broth. Those 5 years of age and older can take medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) to relieve symptoms. Don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers who have the flu; this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

If you have flu, help keep it from spreading. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue away after you use it. And don’t go to work or school while you’re sick. Stay home until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100°F or 37.8°C) without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)3

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Influenza Treatment

Currently, there are four drugs available to treat the flu: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), rimantadine (Flumadine), and amantadine (Symmetrel).

Rimantadine and amantadine (the adamantane drugs) are only effective against influenza A. Due to the development of drug resistance among influenza A viruses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against the use of these two drugs.

Oseltamivir and zanamivir (the neuraminidase inhibitors) are effective against influenza A and B, but, like the adamantanes, must be taken within 48 hours of infection to be effective.

NIAID supports research on influenza therapeutics to develop new drugs, determine effective drug combinations, and examine the mechanisms behind emerging drug resistance. This includes the support of innovative technologies used to design drugs that target specific viral proteins and cellular processes.

Source: NIAID (NIH)4

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Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

  • If you get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness. CDC recommends rapid treatment of seriously ill and high risk suspect flu patients with influenza antiviral drugs. Early treatment with antivirals can be lifesaving, especially for people at high risk for flu complications. People who are at high risk for influenza complications should contact a health care professional promptly if they get flu symptoms, even if they have been vaccinated this season.

Source: CDC Features5

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Flu Treatment for Cancer Patients and Survivors

CDC recommends antiviral drugs to treat and prevent infection. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that stop flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

If you have received cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy within the last month, or have a blood or lymphatic form of cancer, call your doctor immediately if you have been within six feet (1.8m) of someone known or suspected to have the flu. Your doctor may give you antiviral drugs to help prevent the flu.

If you have cancer and have not received treatment within the last month, or you have had cancer in the past but are cancer-free now, and you have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have the flu, call your doctor and ask if you should receive antiviral drugs.

Source: CDC Features6

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What to Do If You Get Sick

Make a plan in advance with your doctor about what to do if you get sick. Flu-like symptoms also can be a sign of a very serious infection that is not the flu and could result in a hospital stay or even death. The plan includes when you should call your doctor and how to get a prescription for antiviral medication quickly if needed.

If you have flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Keep away from others as much as possible to avoid making them sick. It’s important for people with cancer to notify their doctor immediately if they get a fever.

Source: CDC Features7

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The rate of influenza among travelers is not known. The difficulty in self-diagnosing influenza makes it problematic to decide whether to prescribe travelers a neuraminidase inhibitor for self-treatment. This practice should probably be limited to travelers with a specific underlying condition that may predispose them to severe influenza.

Source: CDC Yellow Book 20168

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Early antiviral treatment can shorten the duration of fever and other symptoms and reduce the risk of complications from influenza. Antiviral treatment is recommended as early as possible for any patient with confirmed or suspected influenza who is hospitalized; has severe, complicated, or progressive illness; or is at a higher risk for influenza-associated complications ( Antiviral treatment can also be considered for any previously healthy patient with confirmed or suspected influenza not at high risk of complications, if treatment can be initiated within 48 hours of illness onset.

Although antiviral therapy is ideally initiated within the first 48 hours of illness, for hospitalized patients, those with severe illness, or those at higher risk of complications, antiviral therapy may still be beneficial if started >48 hours after illness onset. Two influenza antiviral medications are available for the treatment and prophylaxis of influenza: oral oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and inhaled zanamivir (Relenza). Both are active against influenza A and B viruses. Oseltamivir is approved for treatment in children aged ?14 days and for chemoprophylaxis of patients aged ?1 year. Zanamivir is approved for treatment in those aged ?7 years and for chemoprophylaxis in those aged ?5 years (Table 3-5). Two other medications, amantadine and rimantadine, are not recommended for treatment or chemoprophylaxis of influenza because of widespread viral resistance among circulating influenza A viruses. Amantadine and rimantadine are not active against influenza B viruses.

People at increased risk for complications of influenza should discuss antiviral treatment and chemoprophylaxis with their health care provider before travel if traveling to areas where influenza activity is occurring. CDC recommends treatment with oseltamivir or zanamivir for human infection with avian or swine influenza viruses.

Source: CDC Yellow Book 20169

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Generally, flu is managed by:

  • resting in bed
  • drinking plenty of fluids (particularly water)
  • taking over-the-counter medication to help relieve symptoms (take as directed in the product information).

Prescription antiviral medications can reduce the length of time symptoms last and help you return to your daily routines earlier. These medications are most effective if they are started within 48 hours of flu symptoms appearing.

See your doctor or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) if you:

  • are concerned about your symptoms
  • are in a high-risk group have a cough and high fever (38 degrees Celsius or more) that is not improving

Source: Queensland Health10

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If the Flu Does Strike

If you do catch the flu, you may be able to pass it along to someone else before you start to experience symptoms, and between five to seven days after becoming sick. Young children—and those with weakened immune systems—may be able to infect others for a longer period of time.

When symptoms hit, antiviral drugs may reduce their severity, help shorten the time you are sick, and prevent serious complications.

But the single best way to prevent the flu? A flu vaccine each season.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)11

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How to treat flu yourself

To help you get better more quickly:

  • rest and sleep
  • keep warm
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

Source: NHS Choices UK12

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A pharmacist can help with flu

A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.

Be careful not to use them if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Speak to a pharmacist before giving medicines to children.

Source: NHS Choices UK13

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GPs don't recommend antibiotics for flu because they won't relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

Source: NHS Choices UK14

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  • Encourage those in risk groups to have the influenza vaccine.
  • Encourage children and staff with flu-like symptoms to stay at home until recovered.
  • Ask children to cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and discard tissues after use.
  • Ensure regular hand washing with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.


Source: GOV.UK15

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Management and treatment

Amantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir (Relenza) for the treatment of influenza National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) technology appraisal 168, February 2009.

Source: GOV.UK16

Treatment Failure: Flu

Many infectious diseases are increasingly difficult to treat because of antimicrobial-resistant organisms, including HIV infection, staphylococcal infection, tuberculosis, influenza, gonorrhea, candida infection, and malaria.

Source: NIAID (NIH)17

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  1. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): issue/ oct2014/ feature2
  2. ibid.
  3. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): 2009/ December/ feature1.htm
  4. Source: NIAID (NIH): diseases-conditions/ influenza-treatment
  5. Source: CDC Features: Features/ FluPrevention/ index.html
  6. Source: CDC Features: cancer/ dcpc/ resources/ features/ cancerflu/ index.htm
  7. ibid.
  8. Source: CDC Yellow Book 2016: travel/ yellowbook/ 2016/ the-pre-travel-consultation/ respiratory-infections
  9. Source: CDC Yellow Book 2016: travel/ yellowbook/ 2016/ infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/ influenza
  10. Source: Queensland Health: HealthCondition/ condition/ 8/ 118/ 82/ influenza-the-flu
  11. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): magazine/ issues/ winter16/ articles/ winter16pg12-13.html
  12. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Flu/ 
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid.
  15. Source: GOV.UK: government/ publications/ health-protection-in-schools-and-other-childcare-facilities/ chapter-9-managing-specific-infectious-diseases
  16. Source: GOV.UK: government/ collections/ seasonal-influenza-guidance-data-and-analysis
  17. Source: NIAID (NIH): research/ antimicrobial-resistance-quick-facts

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.