Swine Flu Symptoms and When You Need Tamiflu


The swine flu (AKA H1N1) has gotten our attention. At my practice we are getting getting calls from patients asking about the symptoms and for prescriptions for Tamiflu to have at home “just in case”.

In this post I want to explain the symptoms of swine flu and when you do and do not need Tamiflu (oseltamivir) – or the other anti-viral medication, Relenza (zanamivir). Also, I want to give you a link to good information sources about swine flu. There is a lot of hype out there and as this is a story that is still being written, so I want you to have reliable sources for the best information.

Symptoms of Swine Flu

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache

And sometimes:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Respiratory symptoms without a fever.

In short, the same symptoms as the regular flu!

Do You Need an Antiviral Med like Tamiflu?

Antiviral drugs are not like antibiotics that kill bacteria. Antivirals do not kill the virus or cure you of the illness. All they do is interrupt the virus’s ability to spread. They may shorten and decrease the severity of your symptoms, but that is all. Different antivirals work in different ways.

Which Antiviral Drugs Work and Which Don’t?

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) work by blocking the release of newly created viruses from an infected cell. This will slow the growth of the virus and that is why they lessen the severity of symptoms. Most important, it reduces transmission of the virus to others. That is why the government has stockpiled these drugs and why they are used in places like nursing homes where the spread of the virus needs to be contained.

According to the World Health Organization, “Oseltamivir [Tamiflu] is administered orally and gives higher systemic level. Zanamivir [Relenza] is delivered by oral inhalation and has lower systemic absorption. Oseltamivir [Tamiflu] is the recommended treatment for lower respiratory tract complications (i.e. pneumonia).”

Antiviral drugs DO NOT cure the flu, they merely shorten and lessen its symptoms. They work best if they are started within 48 hours of symptom outbreak.

Who Should Get Tamiflu or Relenza?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “most healthy persons who develop an illness consistent with influenza, or persons who appear to be recovering from influenza, do not need antiviral medications for treatment or prophylaxis. However, persons presenting with suspected influenza and more severe symptoms such as evidence of [pneumonia] or clinical deterioration should receive prompt empiric antiviral therapy, regardless of previous health or age.” In other words, ride it out unless you are getting worse. If your symptoms are worsening and you think it’s swine flu, see a health professional promptly.

The following people are in high risk groups and should be treated with Tamiflu (or Relenza):

  • Pregnant women
  • Patients with worsening lower respiratory infections or pneumonia
  • Children younger than 5 years old.
  • Adults 65 years of age and older.
  • People with chronic pulmonary disease (including asthma), cardiovascular disease (except hypertension), kidney, liver, blood (including sickle cell disease), neurologic, neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes).
  • People who are immunosuppressed either from cancer or other chemotherapy or HIV
  • People younger than 19 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy.
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

Why Should Treatment Be Given?

For two primary reasons:

  1. To decrease the severity of illness in an individual.
  2. To slow or stop the spread of the virus through a community.

Should You Ask your Health Provider for a Prescription to have at Home “Just in Case”?

NO – for four reasons.

  1. If you become sick with the swine flu it is important that you are properly diagnosed and identified. At this time the swine flu is a greater threat to the community than it is to you individually.
  2. You are not a health professional and may take the medication for a virus for which it will not be effective. Or you may start the drug too early or too late for it to be maximally effective. You need to be examined and diagnosed before receiving a prescription unless you are in a community where there is a known swine flu outbreak.
  3. Used incorrectly drugs that are now effective in slowing the spread of this virus may become ineffective because the virus can mutate and become resistant to them.
  4. If everyone stockpiles these drugs they will be used in a chaotic rather than an organized way. This will undermine their ability to slow or stop the spread of swine flu among groups (i.e. schools or nursing homes) or the community at large. It also may result in using up the limited supply of these drugs so there will be none available to stop outbreaks as they occur.

How You Can Protect Yourself from Swine Flu?

  • Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing.
  • Get enough rest.
  • See a health professional if you get sick.
  • Stay home from work or school if you get sick and don’t go back until you have been without a fever for 24 hours.
  • See this post (also on this blog): I’m Down with the Flu – Some Tips for You

Here is a link to information you can trust about swine flu symtoms and and treatments:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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