Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Swine Flu Works

How to Treat Swine Flu
Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can reduce the duration and severity of swine flu, is in high demand.
Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can reduce the duration and severity of swine flu, is in high demand.
Associated Press/Heribert Proepper

Any over-the-counter medication can be used to treat the symptoms of swine flu, but the true wonder drugs are the antivirals oseltamivir (also known as Tamiflu) and zanamivir (alias: Relenza). Oseltamivir and zanamivir have been shown to shorten the duration and severity of swine flu when taken within 48 hours after symptoms appear. These medications are only available by prescription, and due to limited supply, it's not a guarantee that everyone will have access to these drugs. If swine flu becomes extremely severe, doctors may have to save their doses for those most in need, a group that includes medical personnel, members of the military, children under 5 and pregnant women.

The antivirals are also 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing swine flu [source: Beam]. Pregnant women should talk to their doctors about taking antivirals to ward off swine flu, particularly if someone in their household becomes infected. In this scenario, the pregnant woman should not serve as the primary caregiver, nor should any other people at high risk for swine flu complications.

Related Links

When one member of the family comes down with swine flu, he or she should essentially be quarantined to one room of the house, while everyone else should wash their hands religiously. Caregivers should be especially diligent with the hand-washing, and they may want to wear surgical face masks that fit tightly (as opposed to looser-fitting household cleaning masks). Caregivers should be careful when handling the sick person's laundry and not hug it to their bodies; surfaces in the home should be wiped down regularly with household disinfectants.

The seasonal flu vaccine will not provide protection from swine flu, but numerous drug companies are furiously at work on a swine flu vaccine that is expected to be available in the fall of 2009. As with the antivirals, doctors may need to prioritize who receives the vaccine at first. In the meantime, it's important to focus on prevention.