Influenza, You, and Tamiflu

December 24, 2018

 

It’s winter, and we all know what that means: Christmas, New Years and FLU SEASON!! We all know someone who had the flu, and we know how terrible it can be, and that it’s caused by the influenza virus. But what is a virus? Why can’t we just take an antibiotic and feel better? How are viruses different from bacteria?  

 

Well, once bacteria get into your system, they set up shop. Let’s use our good ole’ friend Strep as an example. Strep is a bacteria, a single-celled organism, filled with organelles, which are tiny structures inside the bacteria that are just like the organs inside of us. Just like we take in energy and nutrients in the form of food, and then our organs metabolize that food into forms we can use to live and reproduce, the bacteria do the same.

 

A virus does not have the necessary organelles to make proteins and reproduce. Their strategy is much more insidious. The virus generally has nothing inside of it but DNA or RNA. Using a tiny syringe type structure, it injects that DNA/RNA into our cells, which then hijack our cells and our organelles to start making copies of the virus instead of making proteins and energy for
ourselves.


Once our cells make the additional viruses, they leave the cell, and then go off to infect new cells. That’s where the oseltamivir comes into play. Oseltamivir works by inhibiting the enzyme that allows the new virus particles to leave the infected cell, preventing the virus from infecting other cells.


In real life, it’s not quite so simple. Since we’re not preventing the virus from infecting the cells, the medication must be started within the first 72 hours of symptom onset. And even then, since you’re already infected, someone taking the medication gets relief of symptoms only 12-24 hours sooner than those who don’t take it. Also, 15% of people taking oseltamivir will develop nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Not something you want to deal with when you’re already sick.


So, what’s the best thing to do for the flu? The answer is vaccination. Many people will get the flu shot and still get the flu. However, their illness will not be as severe as those people who did not get vaccinated. And remember, your immune system needs a month or two to develop protection once you do get the flu shot, so the best time to get vaccinated is in the fall; October or November. After that, you won’t get the maximum benefit.

 

Are you worried that you have the flu? Well, obviously, that’s what flu tests are for. However, all flu tests are NOT created equal! When it comes to flu tests, there are antigen tests and molecular tests. The antigen test is the “rapid” flu test. The one where you get a result in 5-10 minutes. While this might sound good, these only pick up a positive flu test 60% of the time. That’s barely better than flipping a coin! The molecular tests take a bit longer, 15-30 minutes depending on the exact tests, but, they get you the correct result 92% of the time!


At A+ Urgent Care, in order to serve our patients the best, we run molecular flu tests. That way, we know when a positive is a positive, and a negative is a negative, and don’t end up with prescribing unnecessary medications and putting chemicals in the body that don’t need to be there. If you are concerned about your family developing influenza, stop by the office and get checked. Remember, you never need an appointment at A+ Urgent Care. Thinking about getting your flu shot? We have them in stock, and, with most insurance plans, are free of charge!


At the end of the day, is oseltamivir worth it?  Maybe. If you’ve got the flu bad enough that you’re not able to function, then yes, it’s probably worth it.  But, if you’re just a little sick, but can still get up and out, it might not be beneficial. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, bedrest and plenty of fluids are usually all that a healthy person needs to recover from the flu.  This is one of times when less can be more.

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