Flu Cases on Upswing as New Medicine Arrives

As predictable as post-holiday bills and weight loss resolutions, flu activity is on the rise in the U.S., the CDC reports.

For the week ending Dec. 29, 2018, 19 states and New York City reported high flu activity, compared to 9 states and New York City the previous week. More than 1,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza-related hospitalizations have been reported, and as of Dec. 29, 13 children have died of flu this season.Experts hesitate to predict how bad a flu season will be, but they say several points are worth noting about year’s flu season:

  • A new drug to treat flu, Xofluza, is now available to pharmacies nationwide. It joins Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed treatment.
  • It’s not too late to get a flu shot.
  • While symptoms can make you miserable, preventing complications is most important.

New Drug on the Block

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved by the FDA in late October and treats flu symptoms, says Andrew Villani, a spokesperson for Genentech, which distributes the prescription medicine. However, when WebMD checked six pharmacies last week, just one had it in stock, although all offered to order it.

Xofluza is a single dose oral medication, and like other medicines for flu, needs to be taken quickly after symptoms start. The ideal window, doctors say, is to start it within 48 hours after symptoms begin.Flu symptoms include headache, fever, muscle pain, runny nose, and fatigue.

Xofluza is approved for people 12 years old and older, based on results of a study that pitted the drug against a placebo. The study found the median time to symptoms improving was 54 hours on the drug and 80 hours on placebo, Villani says. “Xofluza helps you recover from the symptoms of the flu in just over 2 days,” he says.

Xofluza Availability

In a telephone spot check of major drug chains in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Kankakee, Il., only the Minneapolis drug store had it in stock.

Staff at the other stores said they could order it, giving various timelines about how long it would take to get it in.

Old Standbys

Tamiflu has been on the market since 1999. In 2016, a generic version was approved. It comes in pill or liquid form and can be taken by people 14 days old and older.

It is typically taken twice daily for 5 days. (It can also be prescribed to prevent flu; that regimen is once a day for 7 days.) Besides Tamiflu and Xofluza, the FDA has approved zanamivir (Relenza) to treat flu in people 7 years old and older. A powder that is inhaled, it is usually taken twice daily for 5 days.

Another drug, peramivir (Rapivab), is given in a vein by a health care professional. The FDA approved it for people 2 years old and older. The one-time dose usually takes less than 30 minutes to administer.

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