Jan. 12, 2000 Q: Is it better to use a flu inhaler or get a flu shot?
A: Each is effective in its own way in specific situations and can be used depending on a person’s health situation.
A flu shot is given in the muscle, which leads to a systemwide production of antibodies that protect the body from the flu virus. Flu inhalers came about because of the effectiveness of inhalers for illnesses such as asthma. Inhaled flu medication works topically and systemically, protecting you from air-borne infection.
Everything being equal, you should get a flu shot each year unless your doctor indicates otherwise because it’s the best preventative measure. For older people who have health issues such as cardiac problems, the flu can be extremely devastating. It is important to guard against it. Getting a flu shot every year is the best method of warding off the flu. Yearly flu shots build immunity to the most common strains that are in the environment that year. New viruses are still variations on the common strains, so you do have protection against new viruses with yearly shots.
Some people, those living in nursing homes, for example, may not be able to have a flu shot, due to other health problems. For those who cannot receive the shot, the new inhaled or oral flu treatments are good alternatives. Also, a person who does not make antibodies, and therefore can’t take a muscular shot, could use these flu inhibitors to prevent infection.
An inhaled flu medication, zanamivir, is one of a new type of drug that is effective against both type A and type B flu strains, the major strains of flu. Zanamivir and similar new drugs are the first to be effective against both major types of viruses. Some forms of this new type of drug, such as oseltamivir, are taken orally. Both require a doctor’s prescription.
The flu inhaler should be used within 24 to 36 hours of the time you feel flu symptoms, such as body aches. One inhaler is good for about five or six days. A month later you may need treatment again because the initial dosage offers protection for a limited time. Also, zanamivir is expensive. A course of treatment is about $50, nearly four times the price of a flu shot.
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- James Jones, M.D., treats people with immune system diseases at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver
NOTE: A patient should consult his or her personal physician before changing or considering any medical treatments.
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