Here are two basic facts you need to know about the flu virus: (1) Almost everybody should get the flu vaccine. (2) The flu is not caused by a bacterium, so antibiotics won’t make you better.

Years ago the flu vaccine was recommended only for the elderly and the chronically sick. However, most doctors now feel that everyone should be protected against its ravages, even if it is not life-threatening to them.

Unfortunately, recent observations indicate that, although older people should be vaccinated against the flu, the vaccine may not protect them as effectively as it does younger people. If you are a senior citizen and were vaccinated, don’t dismiss the possibility of flu if you develop its typical signs and symptoms. See your doctor and get treated as early as possible because flu is a major killer of the elderly.

Flu treatment has always consisted basically of reducing the severity of its signs and symptoms — fever, cough, aches, and pains. We take Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen), cough suppressants, and lots of fluids. And don’t forget bed rest.

Several anti-flu medications, aimed both at prevention and treatment, were introduced a few years ago. The older ones are Symmetrol (amantadine) and its newer, preferred derivative Flumadine (rimantadine). These pills typically are taken at the earliest onset of symptoms.

Also, if for some reason you can’t or won’t have the vaccine and have been exposed to the flu, the amantadine family of drugs helps reduce your risk of becoming infected. (They only work against type A flu, not type B.)

Newer medications actually attack the flu virus itself and prevent it from reproducing. One medication, Relenza (zanamivir), is inhaled orally; the other, Tamiflu (oseltamivir), comes in pill form. Both shorten the duration of the infection and reduce the severity of its symptoms. Tamiflu also is approved for preventing flu types A and B in those ages 13 or older.

Here’s What’s New

Elderberry has been used for centuries to treat everything from respiratory tract infections to gastrointestinal symptoms to depression. In fact, it has been called the “medicine chest of the common people.”

Now comes word from some credible scientists that elderberry really does work against the flu. Researchers at the University of Oslo School of Medicine in Norway have found that an extract from the black elderberry reduces the symptoms and duration of flu types A and B. Flu patients given this herbal extract recovered in about 3 days as compared to 7 days in those taking a placebo. Apparently, an ingredient in elderberry attacks the flu virus and prevents it from attaching to the body’s cells and making us sick.

The specific preparation used in this study was developed by an Israeli virologist and is marketed as Sambucol. It may not yet be available in this form in the United States, but ask your health food store if they sell other elderberry preparations. It may be worth trying (along with the conventional medications) if you come down with the flu.

The Bottom Line

Although several effective medications minimize the severity and duration of the flu, there is no cure. You may want to consider taking black elderberry extract, which has recently been shown to be an effective palliative for this infection as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. But use it along with the proven antiviral agents now available for this infection.


Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld’s legions of fans follow his regular column in Parade magazine and his popular Sunday-morning television series Sunday Housecall on FOX News Channel. In addition to his numerous scientific publications and medical textbooks for doctors, he has written nine New York Times bestsellers. He is a distinguished member of the faculty at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical College of Cornell University and attending physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
(Reprinted from
Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld’s Breakthrough Health 2004: 157 Up-to-the-Minute Medical Discoveries, Treatments, and Cures That Can Save Your Life, from America’s Most Trusted Doctor! by Isadore Rosenfeld, M.D.

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