Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingThe U.S. is scrambling to replace millions of lost flu shots and health workers are trying to meet the demands of those most at risk.
So if you're healthy, what can you do to prevent from getting the nasty virus?
Flu season will soon be underway at a time when there's a record shortage of flu vaccine. That's why antiviral medications will play a more important role this year, according to state health officials.
These drugs include Oseltamivir which is sold as Tamiflu, Rimantadine sold as Flumadine; Amantadine otherwise known as Symmetrel, and Zanamivir or Relenza which is used with a special inhaler.
Using antivirals to treat the flu will only reduce your symptoms by about a day. And while they are not a substitute for a flu shot, drugs are 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing the contagious disease.
But prevention can be tricky: these drugs work as long as you take them. But it's unreasonable to take antivirals for the entire flu season.
Secondarily, if your co-workers begin coughing or sneezing, don't pop an antiviral to prevent getting it. Your colleagues or family may not have the flu, but another virus or bacterial infection. And antivirals won't do you a bit of good.
Influenza needs to be confirmed with a lab test before you begin taking a prescription drug.
Remember all drugs have side effects: Tamiflu for example, may cause nausea and vomiting, Amantadine can make you dizzy, and you shouldn't drink alcohol or caffeine while taking it.
This flu virus that's circulating matches last year's virus which was a combination of strain a and b. Tamiflu works against a and b, but will be in limited supply. Amantadine works against a, which is the more dangerous strain, and will be more readily available.
The best use for antivirals may be in a household setting, when someone is diagnosed with the flu and the rest of the family is not yet sick.
Timing is also important. You need to take Tamiflu within two days of exposure to the flu to prevent infection. Amantadine works best when taken before exposure or as soon as possible afterward.