Several flu drugs can help if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms

People's Pharmacy

Health & Fitness

January 04, 2004|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

My pharmacist said that there are effective oral medicines for the flu, but they require a prescription. I didn't get a flu shot this year before they ran out. What can you tell me about flu drugs?

Your pharmacist was probably referring to prescription antiviral medications. Symmetrel (amantadine) was first approved to treat Parkinson's disease in 1966. It was also found to prevent type A influenza or speed recovery. The Food and Drug Administration approved it for this purpose in 1976, though relatively few doctors prescribed it.

A chemical cousin, Flumadine (rimantadine), was introduced in 1993. Like amantadine, it is effective against type A flu when taken within 24 to 48 hours of first symptoms. Side effects such as insomnia, nausea or dizziness are less common than with amantadine.

Tamiflu is newer and works against type B influenza as well as type A. It too can prevent flu or speed healing if taken within 48 hours and seems to be well-tolerated.

What is the law regarding purchasing prescription drugs outside the United States? My Parkinson's support group wants to know what is permitted and what is not permitted.

Technically, it is illegal for any U.S. citizen to import medicine from abroad if the identical drugs exist in U.S. pharmacies. In reality, though, neither the FDA nor U.S. customs is arresting people for purchasing pharmaceuticals in Canada or Mexico for personal use. With states like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Illinois considering purchasing medicine from Canada, this entire issue is becoming a political and legal hot potato.

I can't get an answer on Premarin. I think it is in the category of hormone replacement therapy, but is it in the same category as estrogen / progestin?

I asked my doctor if I should stop, and he said, "There have not been any negative reports on women taking Premarin after a hysterectomy." I've been taking it daily for eight years and still don't know whether I should keep taking it.

Hormone replacement therapy is commonly referred to as HRT. It often includes both estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone). Prempro, for example, contains estrogen in the form of Premarin and medroxyprogesterone. This combination increases the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and breast cancer.

Estrogen alone is still undergoing study. It has been linked to breast cancer and blood clots. Whether it will turn out to be as problematic as combination hormone therapy remains to be established.

I have been taking Pravachol to lower my cholesterol for a year. Yesterday for the first time my refill came with a warning to avoid grapefruit.

I have received a large box of Texas grapefruit and would like to enjoy it. How can I do that safely?

We are puzzled. According to the research, Pravachol is a drug that should not be affected by grapefruit. We think you could enjoy your grapefruit safely, but double-check with your pharmacist and physician to make sure.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them from their Web site, www.peoplespharmacy.org.

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