A prescription 'way more effective' than flu shot, but not for everyone

Doctor discusses pros and cons of Tamiflu

Health experts say this flu season is now just as bad as the 2009 swine flu epidemic. Tamiflu is one medicine that doctors say is highly effective at preventing the flu. But not everyone can or should get their hands on it.

For those with the flu, Tamiflu can cut down on your sickness by about a day. Doctors prescribe it to those not even showing any symptoms. However ABC Action News found out the reasons not just anyone can get it.

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Ellie Hirsch, mom of three and well-known mommy blogger by the name of The Mommy Master, got bad news when she heard her husband tested positive for the flu.

He was immediately prescribed Tamiflu.

“Absolutely, absolutely the Tamiflu helped him. It created a shorter cycle, I believe, so he got better quicker," she said.

Ellie, her five, nine and 11-year-old boys, however, were not prescribed. At that moment, she wondered if the whole family was better off on the antiviral.

Juan Dumois, Director of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, says it’s worth it but not for everyone.

“It’s supposed to be very effective for preventing the flu," he said. "Before the flu virus can reproduce to the point where it’s making you sick, the Tamiflu already in your body cuts it short.”

Dr. Dumois says it’s “way more effective” than the flu shot. But, he’ll typically only prescribe it to those who’ve been exposed to the flu and that have a greater risk of being hospitalized or dying; those like pregnant women, infants and the elderly. But if it’s so good at preventing the flu, why wouldn’t he just give it to everyone?

“That’s a good question too and I think it’s just because there’s not enough Tamiflu to go around,” he said.

It’s also expensive. A five day course can be more than $100. Last week a Texas second grade teacher, who actually needed Tamiflu, died after skipping the treatment because she thought her copay cost too much.

“The more Tamiflu is used and prescribed to people the more possible it is that it could stop working for the flu strands," said Dumois.

Not to mention the side effects. For most it appears as vomiting and nausea. For 1 percent it can appear as extreme hallucinations that can be especially terrifying for children, described Dumois. Plus, it’s not very practical. You’d have to take it every day through the season to prevent the flu.
 
Tamiflu has been so widely prescribed this season that states like Virginia, Ohio and the Carolinas actually faced a shortage. ABC Action News called some clinics and pharmacies around Tampa who all reported they are fully stocked.

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