The answer is that, yes, you can use these drugs as a precautionary measure against swine flu. Government health officials and physicians, however, are hesitant to endorse this because the overuse of antiviral drugs can help germs become resistant to them.
However, some physicians have been providing prescriptions for Tamiflu and Relenza as a precaution. As pharmacist Steve Tigrett reports:
It hasn’t gotten out of hand yet. Some doctors are writing it as a precaution, just to have in case they do start showing symptoms. It needs to be taken pretty quickly after you contract the flu.
The best course of action is to see your physician immediately at the onset of symptoms and to begin taking the medications at that time.
Antiviral drugs are about 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing flu following an exposure. If Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir) is taken when flu symptoms first appear, they can dramatically reduce the duration of illness and the severity of symptoms. These drugs inhibit the flu viruses ability to reproduce, helping to treat existing flu infections and to prevent future ones.
Is one of these two medications better than the other? There is no consensus on this. According to Dr. Marcus Gitterle, a New Braunfels emergency medicine physician: “If I had to choose, I would take Relenza, as I think it gets more drug to the affected tissue than Tamiflu.”
The most important thing is to begin taking these medications within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. If you wait beyond this period, it may be too late to prevent a full-blown case of the flu.
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