HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Doctors have been able to add another weapon in their arsenal to help fight the flu this year.
For the first time in 2 decades, the FDA approved a new flu drug, Xofluza, to fight the flu.
Xofluza is the brand name and the medication itself is Baloxavir Marboxil. It treats the flu with just one dose. When patients who have had symptoms for less than 48 hours take this medication, the FDA says the antiviral drugs can significantly reduce symptoms and the duration of the flu. But doctors at Huntsville Hospital haven't written one prescription for this medicine.
Several urgent cares in North Alabama are using Xofluza. Doctor Ali Hassoun, an infectious disease specialist at Huntsville Hospital, said the medication fights the virus in a different way than Tamiflu by targeting its DNA.
"In general, the flu medicine, for example, the Tamiflu, works mainly on a specific enzyme called the neuraminidase enzyme," he explained. "And that usually helps to release more release more viruses, that enzyme. So, when you start that you are going to eventually kill the virus. Beloxavir actually has a little different way by attacking the DNA of the virus. So it has a different place where it can be effective there."
The new drug was developed in Japan and can shorten flu symptoms in just one dose.
Dr. Hassoun said no patients at Huntsville Hospital have been treated with the new drug. He said studies show that the drug is superior to Tamiflu but there haven't been any studies conducted to see how it helps with patients who are suffering from a severe case of influenza.
"When we look at this, especially in our hospitalized patients, these are usually severe infections with influenza," he said.
He said it's used for mild or moderate cases, and there are some downsides to the Xofluza.
"Cost is more almost double in compared to Tamiflu," he stated.
The drug costs $150 without a prescription, and new studies show that it might not always be effective - some strains could be resistant to it.
He said this drug has only been on the market this flu season. There are other medications, like Tamiflu, that have proven their effectiveness over the course of several years.
Hassoun says flu treatments are much more effective when they're taken within the first 48 hours a patient is experiencing symptoms, but the best way to treat the flu is the vaccine to prevent it in the first place.
He also said it's still not too late to get a flu shot.
In the Huntsville area, this flu season isn't as bad as last season.