Vaccination and antivirals: tools to prevent and treat the flu

With the influenza season approaching, now is the best time to vaccinate.

In the April edition of Australian Prescriber, infectious diseases physician Dr Nicole Gilroy and co-authors examine the role of vaccines and antiviral medicines in preventing influenza (flu) and reducing how long flu symptoms last.

“Prevention through vaccination is our primary defence against influenza, which is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. Each year it causes serious illness and death around the globe,” says Dr Gilroy.

“An influenza vaccination is recommended annually for children aged six months and over, and for adults of all ages. It is usually given a month or two before the winter flu season. A high-dose version of this vaccine is recommended for people over 65 years, as they have an increased risk of not only contracting influenza but also developing serious complications,” she said.

Antivirals – medicines to treat viral infections – are another, less well-known tool in fighting influenza. However, they have to be taken within 48 hours of the start of symptoms, and they only reduce the duration of symptoms by one day.

“Antivirals are recommended to treat influenza in people with a high risk of complications such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and patients with significant health conditions,” says Dr Gilroy.

“Antivirals are also recommended for people who have been exposed to the flu virus and who might be at risk of influenza complications and who cannot be or have not been vaccinated, as well as during an influenza outbreak in residential care facilities. They are not an alternative to vaccination,” she emphasises.

“Influenza infection is an important public health problem affecting many people in Australia and worldwide,” summarises Dr Gilroy. “Vaccination is the most important tool in influenza prevention.”

Read the full article.

ENDS

 

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Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals. It is published by NPS MedicineWise, an independent, not-for-profit organisation for quality use of medicines funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. Australian Prescriber is published every two months and is available online at nps.org.au/australianprescriber.