There's not a lot you can do to treat the flu. Doctors sometimes recommend anti-viral medications if you're seriously ill with influenza and now a new study shows those medications can actually save your life.
The emergency room at Fletcher Allen Health Care can be a busy place in the winter. Besides the usual visits for trauma, heart attacks and broken bones, cases of the flu can trigger an influx of activity here.
"In terms of flu symptoms, we certainly do see people who are feeling sick from the flu, people who have a high fever, people who are nauseous and vomiting and can't keep fluids down. The more significant population we see are people who have other illnesses and the flu is making those worse. So it's making their heart disease worse, or their diabetes out of control, stuff like that," said Dr. Steve Leffler from Fletcher Allen Health Care.
And for those patients, those at highest risk of complications and those sick enough to be hospitalized, anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu are often prescribed.
Now, a new study shows Tamiflu can even make a life or death difference in those people. Researchers looked at more than 29,000 people in 38 countries who had H1N1 during the 2009 pandemic. They found that Tamiflu reduced their risk of death by 25 percent.
"It actually stops the virus from replicating, so that's one of the reasons it's better to take it early. So we know if you take it within the first two days, that has the greatest effect. It does seem to decrease the overall amount of time you have the flu and for people who have other illnesses, those sick enough to make them in the hospital from the flu, it has shown a mortality benefit," said Leffler.
But many people with the flu never even visit a doctor, much less a hospital and Leffler says most don't need to.
So how do you know when and if you will benefit from anti-viral medication?
"We have a protocol at Fletcher Allen. If you're sick enough to be admitted to the hospital with the flu we go ahead and put you on the medication. If you're in the other populations that we know have higher risk of getting sick from it and you're in the right window of time, we go ahead and treat those people," said Leffler.
Federal health officials say thousands of people die of the flu each year in the United States, but doctors hope this new information will help reduce that mortality rate for those at highest risk from influenza.
PO Box 4508