4 things you need to know about flu medication

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This season's highly contagious H3N2 strain of the flu hit early and hard, overtaxing hospital emergency departments, urgent care centers and pharmacies carrying antivirus medications. Distributors of those drugs have been scrambling to keep up with demand.

Here are four things to know about this type of medication:

1. You’ve got to get it fast.

Antivirals, like Tamiflu, are most effective when taken within 48 hours of getting sick. The tricky part is the symptoms may start out with a mild, low grade fever.

This season's strain of the virus is "a sneaky one," said USC Keck Family Medicine Dr. Carolyn Kaloostian. "The little fever starts and you don’t even know it." 

She recommends monitoring your temperature and calling your doctor as soon as you suspect the flu is coming on.

2. It can cut the severity and duration of the flu.

You might feel better a day or two sooner. The medications can prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. That will make the biggest difference for people at high-risk, including babies, people with asthma, people over 65 and those with diabetes or heart disease.

3. There is more than one option.

You’ve probably heard of Tamiflu, but generics and Zanamivir could work just as well. Consult your doctor about what’s the best option for you.

4. It’s no replacement for the flu shot.

While the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it will prevent about one in three people from getting sick, and it will lessen the symptoms for the others.

"You may still get the flu after you’ve protected yourself with the vaccine, but the reality [is] you most likely would have been 10 times worse than you got," said Kaloostian.