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Treatment of Influenza

People with the flu are advised to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco and, if necessary, take medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Children and teenagers with flu symptoms (particularly fever) should avoid taking aspirin during an influenza infection (especially influenza type B), because doing so can lead to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease of the liver. Since influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effect on the infection; unless prescribed for secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia. Antiviral medication can be effective, but some strains of influenza can show resistance to the standard antiviral drugs.

The two classes of antiviral drugs used against influenza are neuraminidase inhibitors and M2 protein inhibitors (adamantane derivatives). Neuraminidase inhibitors are currently preferred for flu virus infections since they are less toxic and more effective. The CDC recommended against using M2 inhibitors during the 2005–06 influenza season due to high levels of drug resistance. As pregnant women seem to be more severely affected than the general population by the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, prompt treatment with anti-influenza drugs has been recommended.

Table 1. Antiviral drugs to treat influenza

Class Inhibitor
Effective Against
Drug Name
Brand Name
M2 inhibitors
(adamantane derivatives)
Influenza A
Influenza A & B

Figure 1. Life cycle of the influenza virus and targets for therapeutic intervention.