The new medication to treat influenza, Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil), was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October (2018). It supposedly works faster than Tamiflu, the best known of the older drugs, and is said to shorten the length of time you’ll feel sick. You’re supposed to use it only during the first two days of developing flu symptoms. Research has shown that those who take it within 24 hours of getting flu symptoms do better than those who take it between 24 and 48 hours after symptoms develop.
Unlike Tamiflu, you only need one dose of Xofluza. Because it isn’t known whether or not it can harm the fetus or pass into breast milk, pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid it. The new drug also can’t be used by children under the age of 12.
And, yes, Xofluza is quite expensive. It is priced at $150, although if you have health insurance you should be able to get it for $30. If you’re uninsured, you may be able to get a coupon that would lower the cost to $90.
Xofluza works by blocking an enzyme the flu virus needs in order to copy itself. Studies have shown that it is effective against both A and B strains of the flu virus as well as against bird flus that sometimes infect humans. The FDA approved it after two clinical trials with a total of 1,832 patients. Those treated with Xofluza recovered faster than those who received a placebo, although in one trial there was no difference in the recovery time between patients who were given Xofluza or Tamiflu. Tamiflu is now a generic drug available by prescription. Compared to Xofluza it is inexpensive, costing between $5.67 and about $8 per pill, although you have to take more than one. The dosage for adults and teenagers is 75 mg, twice a day for five days. For children between two weeks of age and 12 years old the dose is based on weight and has to be taken twice a day for five days. Tamiflu is approved for pregnant women.
The most common side effects of Xofluza include diarrhea and bronchitis. In one study, about 20 percent of participants developed mild side effects including diarrhea, bronchitis nausea, and sinusitis. Tamiflu’s most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, headache and pain and tend to occur at about the same rate as seen for Xofluza.
This flu season began in October of 2018 and could continue into May of 2019.
Probably the single most effective measure you can take to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands often and keep them away from your eyes and nose. Also, try to avoid contact with people who have respiratory illnesses. Airborne droplets from sneezes and coughs spread the influenza virus from person to person – so when you’re sick, stay home.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Approves New Drug to Treat Influenza.” October 24, 2018, fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm624226.htm