Flu season is officially underway, and while everyone’s bracing for impact, there is a little bit of good (er—at least not bad) news for the 2018 – 2019 flu season: a new, possibly improved medication.
According to a news release on Wednesday, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved Xofluza, a new flu medication. “This is the first new antiviral flu treatment with a novel mechanism of action approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said in the release yesterday.
And honestly, it’s time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year’s flu season was a doozy—an estimated 80,000 people died of the flu and its complications last winter, per the Associated Press.
In fact, last year’s flu season was so bad that Xofluza was granted priority review by the FDA, essentially expediting its approval from its usual ten months to six, to get that sh*t out to the public ASAP. (It will be available in the coming weeks, reports CNN.)
Okay, what is Xofluza and how does it work?
According to the medication’s website, Xofluza is a newly FDA-approved prescription antiviral medication to treat the flu in anyone older than 12. But here’s the catch: It only works if the person has had flu symptoms (like fever, muscle aches, and fatigue) for less than 48 hours.
Xofluza can help you recover from the flu in just over two days (in its clinical trials, patients felt better in 2.3 days or 54 hours, versus 80 hours with a placebo). Compared to other flu treatments, patients recovered at the same rate, per the FDA.
The best part: You literally only have to take one tablet (with or without food, because yes, that’s important info). Not one tablet a day for a few days—one single tablet, period.
Of course, being a medication, Xofluza still has side effects—the most commonly reported ones were diarrhea and bronchitis, according to the FDA. Those who are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding should also talk to their doctor before taking Xofluza, since its effects on an unborn baby or infants are unknown.
So, how is it different from other flu medications?
Those “other flu medications” include Tamiflu (also offered as generic oseltamivir), Relenza, and Rapivab.
First, the most important similarity: Antiviral medications work best when they’re taken within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms. They also work at similar rates—again, in the Xofluza clinical trials, all flu treatments helped patients recover in a similar time frame.
But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Xofluza, Tamiflu is actually approved for anyone over two weeks old (a younger person’s dosing of Tamiflu is different than an adult’s, but they’re still able to take it), according to Tamiflu’s website, while Relanza is approved for those over seven, and Rapivab is okay for anyone over two to use, per the CDC. Reminder: You have to be at least 12 years old to take Xofluza.
Then there’s the amount of medication you have to take: Xofluza is a one stop shop, while the others takes a little longer. Typically a person takes Tamiflu and Relenza twice a day for five days, in either liquid or capsule form. You’re also instructed to take them with food, as it might irritate your stomach. Rapivab, on the other hand, is taken intravenously for 15 to 30 minutes, per the CDC.
As for which one you should take if you get the flu—your doctor is the best person to help you decide that. And honestly, the more flu medication options the better: “Having more treatment options that work in different ways to attack the virus is important because flu viruses can become resistant to antiviral drugs.”
Also, reminder: These drugs are meant to help speed up your recovery once you have the flu. They are NOT a substitute for the flu shot.
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