Although there are specific tests to identify the flu virus strain from respiratory samples, doctors typically rely on a set of symptoms and the presence of influenza in the community for diagnosis. Specific tests are useful to determine the type of flu in the community, but they do little for individual treatment. Doctors may administer tests, such as throat cultures, to identify secondary infections.
Essentially, a bout of influenza must be allowed to run its course. Symptoms can be relieved with bed rest and by keeping well hydrated. A steam vaporizer may make breathing easier, and pain relievers will take care of the aches and pain. Food may not seem very appetizing, but an effort should be made to consume nourishing food. Recovery should not be pushed too rapidly. Returning to normal activities too quickly invites a possible relapse or complications.
Since influenza is a viral infection, antibiotics are useless in treating it. However, antibiotics are frequently used to treat secondary infections.
Over-the-counter medications are used to treat flu symptoms, but it is not necessary to purchase a medication marketed specifically for flu symptoms. Any medication that is designed to relieve symptoms, such as pain and coughing, will provide some relief. Medications containing alcohol, however, should be avoided because of the dehydrating effects of alcohol. The best medicine for symptoms is simply an analgesic, such as aspirin, acetaminophen,or naproxen. Without a doctor's approval, aspirin is generally not recommended for people under 18 owing to its association with Reye's syndrome, a rare aspirin-associated complication seen in children recovering from the flu. To be on the safe side, children should receive acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat their symptoms.
There are two antiviral drugs marketed for use in the United States. These may be useful in treating individuals who have weakened immune systems or who are at risk for developing serious complications of influenza but may be allergic to the flu vaccine. The first is amantadine hydrochloride, which is marketed under the names Symmetrel (syrup), Symadine (capsule) and Amanta-dine-hydrochloride (capsule and syrup). The second antiviral is rimantadine hydrochloride, trade name Flumandine (tablet and syrup). These two drugs are chemically related and are effective only against type A influenza viruses. Both drugs can cause such side effects as nervousness, anxiety, lightheadedness, and nausea, with side effects more likely to occur with amantadine. Severe side effects include seizures, delirium, and hallucination, but are rare and are nearly always limited to people who have kidney problems, seizure disorders, or psychiatric disorders.
Julia Barrett, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,