What is the best way to avoid getting sick during flu season?

The innovative flu medicine XOFLUZA suppresses symptoms but does not rule out important preventative measures

A new anti-flu medication has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but some ASU biomedical researchers and providers say it has not eliminated the need for a flu shot just yet. 

On Oct. 24, the FDA approved a revolutionary treatment for the flu to be administered after a patient is already infected with the virus.

The Baloxavir marboxil, known by the brand name XOFLUZA, is the first of its kind to be approved by the FDA.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in a press release that XOFLUZA is an important treatment option to have available for patients.

Tamiflu is a treatment that has been typically used for those already infected with the flu. It is a neuraminidase inhibitor which, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is a "class of antiviral drugs that inhibit influenza A and B viruses."

It works by attaching to an enzyme in the virus to slow down the replication, while the new drug XOFLUZA completely inhibits replication of the virus. XOFLUZA can shorten the duration of flu symptoms while Tamiflu can only make the symptoms less intense.

According to Dr. Stephanie Schroeder, the chief of medical staff at ASU Health Services, this is the first new flu treatment mechanism to come out in twenty years. 

“It’s totally unprecedented,” Schroeder said. 

XOFLUZA is an innovative new drug, but Schroeder said that classic preventative measures and the flu shot are still the only ways a person can escape contracting the illness altogether.

"Prevention is always better than treatment," Schroeder said. 

Matteo Vaiente, a graduate research assistant in the College of Health Solutions, said that getting a flu shot is imperative to prevent catching the disease. 

“The CDC sponsors vaccine effectiveness studies annually and through observational research techniques, they derive estimates on how effective the vaccine is," Vaiente said. "This year, they observed a population of about 8,600 patients, and they derived an estimate of about 40 percent effectiveness.” 

If those odds do not sound worth the trip, Vaiente said even if a student has never caught the flu, going out and getting a flu vaccine is better than contracting a very dangerous virus. 

Vaiente and Schroeder both said that flu vaccines are taken from specially grown flu viruses that are “killed" or deactivated, so they cannot infect anyone. 

The remaining viral proteins are purified and used for the vaccine. These proteins trigger immune system responses from your body that prepare it to fight the flu, thus reducing the chance of getting sick.

"Even if you get the flu, you have ‘pressure protection,'" Schroeder said, "So you get a milder form of the flu than if you did not get the flu shot at all.”

Schroder said that even if someone has been vaccinated, they should still practice preventative measures to avoid getting sick.

“Social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing, not touching your nose after touching the doorknob, staying home while sick," Schroeder said, "All of these things are still important even if you got the vaccine." 

ASU offers flu shot clinics across all campuses during the fall semester. The vaccine is covered under ASU’s health insurance plan, so students can be vaccinated for a minimal cost. 

Katherine DeRose, a nurse at ASU Health Services, said that since the Tempe campus is so large, they rotate locations to help make flu shots more accessible to all.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for students with their schedules," DeRose said. 

The release of XOFLUZA is an innovative development in post-infection flu treatment, but there is still no quick fix for the virus.

Schroeder said that prevention is still the best approach to avoiding the flu, and that the flu vaccine is the best solution for staying healthy throughout flu season.


Reach the reporter at gmlieber@asu.edu or follow @G_Mira_ on Twitter. 

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