Flu is a viral infection, which affects the nose, throat and lungs. The virus that causes flu is known as the influenza virus. Most people with flu have mild to moderate infection, which does not need a visit to the doctor. If you consult a doctor for flu, the doctor will most likely prescribe symptomatic treatment. As flu is caused by virus, there is no need for antibiotics.
Treatment for flu: In most cases of flu, symptomatic treatment is needed as it is a self-limiting illness that improves in a few days.
Symptomatic treatment, which makes the person with flu feel better include:
- taking plenty of fluids, such as oral rehydration solution, fresh juice, soups, coconut water, etc
- fever reducing medicine, such as acetaminophen or tepid sponging to reduce high fever
- over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, etc to reduce body pain, sore throat and headache. Aspirin or aspirin-containing medications are not recommended for use by children or teenagers as these have been associated with a rare, potentially fatal condition called Reye's syndrome.
- gargling with lukewarm water with added salt may help in treating sore throat
- saline nasal sprays and drops may help clear the secretions.
Antiviral medications: People with severe infection or those likely to develop complication are given antiviral medications. Antiviral medications used for the treatment of flu are:
- Relenza (Zanamivir): It is recommended for use as an inhalation medicine. It is given to patients older than seven years. It is effective against both influenza type A and B.
- Tamiflu (Oseltamivir): It is available as a capsule or oral suspension. It is useful both for treatment and prevention of flu in children over the age of 1 and adults. It is effective against both type A and B influenza virus.
- Symmetrel (Amantadine): It is effective against Influenza type A alone and is used for treatment and prevention of flu in children over 12 months of age.
- Flumadine (Rimantadine): It is effective against just type A Influenza virus and is approved only for prevention of flu in children younger than 10 years and not for flu treatment.
Amantadine and rimantadine are not used any longer for the prevention or treatment of flu (as resistance to both these drugs has become common). Antiviral drugs have been shown to shorten the duration of illness by a few days. These drugs are most effective when started within 1-2 days of the start of symptoms. If you have symptoms of flu that do not improve with rest and symptomatic treatment, your symptoms are severe or you are likely to develop complications of flu because of some other problem, such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, etc, consult your doctor.