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Why the New Flu Drug Is a Game Changer

Everyone should still get their flu shots, but at least we’re rolling into this year’s flu season with a new weapon: a drug that stops the virus in its tracks.

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Last year’s flu vaccine offered little resistance to the most common strain of virus. According to the CDC, the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by about 40 percent; the result was that millions got sick and more than 80,000 people died. This year, the vaccine looks to be better matched to the circulating viruses—a good reason to get vaccinated. We also have a new backup plan: The U.S. Food & Drug Administration just approved a drug called Xofluza to treat the flu after you get sick.

“This is the first new antiviral flu treatment with a novel mechanism of action approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a press release. “With thousands of people getting the flu every year, and many people becoming seriously ill, having safe and effective treatment alternatives is critical. This novel drug provides an important, additional treatment option.”

The drug was developed in Japan, reports Healthline, and was tested in clinical trials in the United States. during the summer. The drug is currently available for people who are older than 12 who get diagnosed with the flu within 48 hours of getting symptoms. While the side effects are minimal, they do include diarrhea and bronchitis, according to the FDA. Xofluza works by blocking the flu virus from replicating, which is why it’s important to start the drug soon after infection. Here are 11 things doctors do to treat the flu.

Andrew Pekosz, PhD, a professor at the W. Harry Feinstone department of molecular microbiology & immunology at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years studying the flu virus, tells Reader’s Digest that this new drug is not only effective in treating the flu virus, but it can work with a single dose, making it a bonafide medical breakthrough. “This should make taking the drug much easier than the current influenza drug, Tamiflu, which requires twice-a-day tablets for up to five days,” he says.

One concern the experts have with Xofluza is that virus strains may become resistant to the drug. This isn’t an issue with Tamiflu, William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explained to Healthline. He also said that further medication may be needed to fight influenza type B, which is often dominant later in the flu season. “When it comes to treating influenza A infections, Xofluza seems to work extremely well, but resistance seems to be developing fairly readily,” Dr. Schaffner said. Next, don’t miss these 15 surprising ways you can prevent colds and the flu.

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