Medicines and Home Treatments

There are plenty of things you can do to cut down your chances of getting the flu. An annual flu shot, good hand washing practices reducing your contact with people who are infected with the flu can all go a long way to keeping you healthy. If those fail, several medications are now available to treat the flu. The trick? You have to start taking them within 48 hours of being infected.

Amantadine and Rimantadine

Amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine) are effective in curtailing influenza A infections and may even stop secondary complications-a boost for high risk groups such as young children, the elderly, and the chronically ill. They both interfere with the virus's ability to replicate once inside a cell. In clinical tests they were found to shorten the flu illness by 24 to 36 hours. The drawback to both drugs is their administration: They need to be taken within 48 hours of symptom onset to be effective and must be taken for five full days, even after your symptoms have abated. If you stop sooner, your symptoms may return. Both are available only by prescription.

Neuraminidase inhibitors

Two other drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors-zanamivir (Relenza), inhaled orally, and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), taken orally twice a day for five days-can shorten the duration of the flu by 24 to 36 hours. They interfere with the neuraminidase coating on the influenza virus, interfering with the release of new viruses from the infected cell. The catch? You have to act right away-within 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms and must be taken for five days, even after your symptoms have abated. Your symptoms may return if you stop prematurely. They do not reduce your ability to infect others while you are symptomatic and do not protect people from becoming infected. Both are available only by prescription.

Soothing Your Symptoms

Don't despair if the flu has already caught up with you. Feeling rotten with the flu is natural. Like Star Trek's starship Enterprise battling off the Klingons, your body shuts down all non-essential systems so it can fight off the virus. And you don't have to do what our ancestors did to relieve the flu. They would rub camphorated oil on the chest and throat, along with a dab of turpentine-just enough so everyone could smell the sick person from afar.

We've come a long way, flu sufferers. Here are some modern ways to soothe your fevered brow and other parts.

  • Fever. If your fever is 101 degrees Fahrenheit or under, just let the fever, which enhances the immune response, run its course. Reduce higher fevers with medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. DO NOT give aspirin to a child who contracts the flu. Although the exact connection is not understood, the use of aspirin in children with viral infections has been linked with Reye's Syndrome, a rare and life-threatening condition affecting the liver and brain that typically strikes youngsters recovering from a viral infection. Always treat children with viral infections with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Muscle aches and chills. Both can be relieved by aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Dehydration from the fever or just not drinking enough fluids should be avoided by drinking plenty of fluids, even when you have no appetite for food. Adults should drink 8 ounces of fluids every two hours; children, who are more likely to become dehydrated, should sip drinks every half-hour. Avoid alcoholic beverages, which interact with medications and dehydrate you further.
  • Congestion. Counteract congestion with an over-the-counter decongestant. Or add moisture to the air with a humidifier, and drink hot, soothing teas-not to mention chicken soup-all of which will help thin the mucus in your nose and relieve congestion.
  • Gargle with salt water to treat a sore throat (1/2 tsp. salt to 8 oz. warm water)-and drink plenty of hot fluids, suck on lozenges, or try cool treats such as flavored ices and ice cream, all of which work wonders on children (and adults).
  • Don't smoke. Smokers who contract the flu should stop smoking (and those who do not smoke, avoid smokers). The flu viruses irritate tissue as they race through the respiratory tract-and smoking not only irritates it further but also slows the body's immune response.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are sometimes experienced by children with the flu. Contact your child's doctor and ask what to do at the first sign of gastrointestinal problems. Ensure that your child does not become dehydrated by offering them small, frequent drinks of sports drinks (which help replenish needed electrolytes), flat soda, or flavored ices.
  • Get rest, and plenty of it. And don't try to bounce back too quickly. Wait a day after your temperature is normal before resuming your normal activities or a relapse may be in store.
  • Try some alternative remedies. Echinacea, garlic, vitamin C, and even zinc have all been tied to flu relief and may boost to your immune system.

Chicken Soup and the Flu

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have confirmed that the seemingly magical healing qualities of Grandma's chicken soup are not in your imagination. As the flu virus attacks the body, the area becomes inflamed, which causes flu's characteristic stuffiness and cough. They added chicken soup to some samples of the white blood cells that trigger inflammation and found that the soup inhibited their activity. The researchers speculate that the soup's ability to reduce inflammation may in part explain its familiar comforting qualities.