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Most H1N1 Flu Patients Don't Need Antiviral Medication

But for high-risk patients, antiviral treatment for H1N1 infection should begin promptly

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Antiviral medications should be used to treat H1N1 swine flu only in people who are hospitalized from the flu or are at high risk of complications from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At a Sept. 8 news conference, CDC officials announced new guidelines for the use of antivirals, which include oseltamivir and zanamivir. According to the agency, because H1N1 has been mild in most people who contract it, the majority of patients will not need to take antivirals. Those who should receive the drugs if they get swine flu include people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma; the elderly; the very young; and pregnant women.

One of the CDC's reasons for determining that most swine flu patients should not receive antivirals is concern over development of H1N1 resistance to them. The guidelines also offer a "watchful waiting" alternative to starting antivirals in high-risk people only exposed to H1N1, foregoing treatment unless symptoms appear. However, the officials stress, upon flu symptom onset, antiviral treatment should begin promptly in these individuals rather than waiting for confirmatory test results.

"A key point of the antiviral guidance is that hospitalized patients who are suspected to have influenza need prompt treatment with antiviral medicines," Anne Schuchat, M.D., director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta, said at the news conference. "That can be a very important way to reduce the severity of illness. We don't want providers to wait until test results are available, but we want them to start antivirals when you suspect influenza."

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