While Americans wait for the H1N1 influenza vaccine, it’s important to know and understand the options for treatment for those who have been diagnosed and are ill. Daniel A. Hussar, the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, explains that two antiviral medications, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are active against the H1N1 strain of virus and can be used to treat those who have been diagnosed with (or are strongly suspected of having) this infection.
Hussar says It is important that the use of these medications is started as soon as possible (within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms) if they are to be effective. When used for treating infection, these medications are usually administered twice a day for five days. They do not immediately relieve symptoms, but may shorten the duration of symptoms by approximately one day, on average. There has been some recent publicity that the intravenous administration of a single dose of another antiviral agent has been highly effective in treating H1N1 flu. However, this drug is still being evaluated and is not commercially available.
Tamiflu is available in capsules and in a liquid formulation that are given by mouth and swallowed. It has been studied and approved for use in adults and children at least one year of age. Some patients experience nausea and vomiting, and there have been rare reports of neurologic/psychiatric adverse events (e.g., delirium) although it has not been proven that the drug was responsible for these effects.
Relenza is administered by oral inhalation and its use in the treatment of influenza has been studied and approved in patients 7 years of age and older. It is generally recommended that Relenza not be used in patients with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other conditions that may be associated with bronchospasm.
Individuals who experience symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, or coughing that may be associated with the flu should speak with a pharmacist, physician or other health professional, Hussar advises. It may be that these symptoms are not due to a flu infection, but rather have developed because of an allergy or common cold, and can be effectively treated with a nonprescription product.