Flu is raging across the country and, with the flu season shaping up to be one of the worst in years, health experts recommend that people take the necessary precautions to mitigate their risks.
Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advised doctors to use anti-viral medications when treating individuals who have symptoms of flu even before tests confirm that the illness is indeed caused by influenza.
In a press conference on Friday, Jan. 9, Frieden said that although antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, Relenza and the newly approved Rapivab may keep thousands of people from getting hospitalized and prevent potential deaths, these drugs are dramatically underutilized.
The effectiveness of these antiviral medications have been hotly debated. Some researchers from the non-profit group Cochrane Collaboration, for instance, claim that there is little evidence proving that Roche's Tamiflu really works.
The CDC director acknowledged that some physicians do not prescribe antiviral drugs for their patients because of the notion that these are not effective, but he defended these drugs saying that CDC scientists have found "compelling evidence" based on studies on Tamiflu that, when used early, these drugs can help.
Frieden said that these medications, which lower the ability of the virus to reproduce, can have a positive effect on the length of time and severity of the illness when it is given within 48 hours.
To date, 46 states across the U.S. have high numbers of influenza cases; 26 children have already died because of flu-related causes. Older adults and children below five years old are particularly vulnerable to the illness.
Public health officials are recommending antivirals for this flu season because this year's vaccine provides reduced protection against the influenza A (H3N2) strain that affects about two thirds of the patients. This also helps explain the uptick in the number of flu cases this season.
Health experts, however, said that getting a flu shot is still necessary.
Saul Hymes, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Stony Brook Children's Hospital in New York, said that although one of the predominant flu strains this year is not as well covered by the vaccine, it can still provide protection for three other strains and at least some protection against the H3N2 strain as well.
Hymes, likewise, advised people who think they are getting a flu to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the fever and drink plenty of fluids and rest.