Forget Your Flu Shot? New Anti-Flu Pill May Keep You From Getting Sick

Results in JAMA

October 05, 1999

What if your whole family has come down with the flu and you haven't had your flu shot yet? A new anti-flu pill may keep you from getting sick, according to a study in the October 6th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that the drug oseltamivir prevented flu infection in 78 percent of volunteers who took the drug 24 hours before being exposed to the flu. Among a second group of volunteers who took the drug after they had been infected with the flu virus, the drug cut the duration of their illness and the severity of their symptoms in half.

"This drug is a promising weapon against the flu," says John Treanor, M.D., associate professor medicine of the Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester, who lead the part of the trial that studied volunteers who took the pill before being exposed to the flu virus. "This could become a way for people to keep from getting sick when the whole office has the flu."

The new pill is the first to work against both influenza A and influenza B viruses. Previous pills have only been effective against one strain or the other, and another anti-flu drug, Ralenza, needs to be administered with an inhaler.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing oseltamivir, and may approve it for commercial use before this flu season hits. Even though the pill can prevent the flu virus from taking hold, it probably won't replace flu vaccines, since a person exposed to the flu must have taken the drug the day before in order for it to prevent infection.

The researchers found that volunteers who took the drug after being infected had the flu only 53 hours, while people in the placebo group stayed infected for an average of 95 hours. The amount of nasal mucus, a key indicator of the severity of flu symptoms, was also cut in half in this group. In all, researchers tested 37 volunteers in the infection prevention study, and 80 in the post-infection study. Fredrick Hayden, M.D., of the University of Virginia School of Medicine is the lead author of the study.

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