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Your Health Blog

    Influencing Influenza – Is It Possible?

    Michelle Galen, MD Deaconess Clinic Family Medicine  03/16/2015
    Every year, parents, school nurses and physicians dread flu season.  For most, influenza is an inconvenience characterized by missed work, a trip to the drug store and hours of daytime television.  However, for others, influenza can be deadly.  According to The World Health Organization, up to 500,000 people die every year from the flu

    You’re undoubtedly familiar with the common flu precautions of avoiding contact with others who are sick, washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes.  However, humans are fallible and none of these practices are foolproof.  What else is available to protect you and your family? 

    The Flu Shot – The flu shot is a vaccine that provides prevention against the common strains of influenza.  The type and prominence of influenza strains can change from year-to-year.  Therefore the flu strains have to be predicted up to a year in advance to allow sufficient time for the manufacturing process. This at times leads to some delays and manufacturers scrambling to get the vaccine to market.  Because the influenza strains targeted for the vaccine have to be predicted, at times the coverage/protection is not as wholesome as one would wish.  However, it remains an affordable and the most effective option. 

    Antivirals – The most commonly known antivirals are Tamiflu® and Relenza®.  If taken within 24-48 after infection, antivirals are quite effective at reducing severity and duration.  Unfortunately, it can take 3-4 days before a person recognizes their symptoms as the flu.  Additionally, several flu strains demonstrate resistance to antivirals.

    IV Administered Antivirals – In December 2014, the FDA approved the antiviral single-dose Rapivab that is administered intravenously.  Most effective for patients with uncomplicated influenza, it is subject to the same shortcomings of other antivirals in that it is most efficacious when administered quickly after infection. 

    VX-787 – A new treatment on the horizon, VX-787 aims to solve the shortcomings of both flu shots and antivirals.  The medication acts as a rapid virus inhibitor and has a longer treatment window making it a more commercially viable option for patients.  Studies to test the treatment are currently underway.

    During flu season, it’s important to understand if you are high-risk or are exposed to high-risk environments (schools, hospitals, etc.).  The World Health Organization recommends yearly vaccinations for health-care workers, children between the ages of six months and five years, pregnant women, the elderly and patients with chronic medical conditions. 

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