I heard about an anti-flu medication called Tamiflu. How does it work? Is it as effective as people claim it is? Finally, is this product contraindicated in persons with cystic fibrosis?
On the subject of the battle against influenza, two effective antiviral medications have recently been developed against flu viruses (but not against cold viruses). Previously, there were products such as amantadine, which were somewhat effective against Influenza A viruses but not against Influenza B viruses. These products had fairly strong side effects. Two new medications have appeared on the market recently: Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). The first comes in tablet form and the second is an inhalation preparation. They both work the same way: they prevent the virus that has already infected a cell in the respiratory tract from spreading to other cells. They are both equally effective as long as treatment begins within 48 hours after the symptoms appear. They cut short the illness by one and a half to two days, reducing fever, coughing and muscle pain. Most importantly, they limit the number of complications from additional bacterial infections. These medications must be taken twice a day for five days. Tamiflu tablets may cause nausea and vomiting at the beginning of treatment, but in general, the medication is well tolerated. Relenza, which is inhaled, causes very few side effects, but the patient has to master the inhalation technique, which isn’t very complicated.
Neither of these medications is contraindicated in cystic fibrosis. They can be useful for those who, for whatever reason, were not vaccinated before the flu season (December to March) and for the few individuals who contract the flu despite the vaccination. However, these medications should not be used preventively: they do not protect people the way a vaccination does. Vaccination is the main way to prevent the flu.