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Flu Shots Best for Protection

Treating older adults with one of two classes of available drugs is a cost-effective approach to handling the flu virus, but yearly flu shots are likely a better bet. //

Researchers compared the outcomes and costs of several strategies for caring for older adults with the flu or a flu-like illness. The strategies reviewed included no testing or treatment, testing for flu before treatment with an anti-flu drug, and treating patients without testing.

Results of the study show using a newer anti-flu drug without testing beforehand was cost-effective for patients who are older than 65 and were not vaccinated or who were at increased risk for complications. For those patients who were vaccinated or who were low-risk, rapid testing followed by the newer drug (if the test was positive) was the best strategy.

Researchers say the newer anti-flu drugs cost significantly more than the older drugs, but they work for both influenza type A and B. Older, less expensive anti-flu drugs only work on influenza A, but these are a reasonable alternative if patients cannot afford the newer drugs, say researchers.

Doctors, say despite the cost, anti-flu drugs are a reasonable strategy for treating older patients with the flu. However, they say, "The best advice for older adults is to get a flu shot every year because vaccination decreases the probability of getting the flu and reduces the severity of illness. Flu shots can decrease the need for hospitalization by one-third and reduce mortality by half. Doctors also point out that anti-flu treatment only works if started within the first 48 hours after symptoms appear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best time to get a flu shot, if you are in a high-risk group, is from October through November. Experts caution against getting a flu shot too early, because protection from the flu can begin to decline within a few months after receiving the shot.

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