What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs
On this Page
- Can the flu be treated?
- What are antiviral drugs?
- What should I do if I think I have the flu?
- Should I still get a flu vaccine?
- What are the benefits of antiviral drugs?
- What are the possible side effects of antiviral drugs?
- When should antiviral drugs be taken for treatment?
- What antiviral drugs are recommended this flu season?
- How long should antiviral drugs be taken?
- Can children and pregnant women take antiviral drugs?
- Who should take antiviral drugs?
Yes. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat influenza illness.
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option. Check with your doctor promptly if you have a high risk condition and you get flu symptoms (see box below for the full list of high risk conditions). Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat your flu illness.
Yes. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick. A flu vaccine is still the first and best way to prevent influenza.
When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people with a high risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
Some side effects have been associated with the use of flu antiviral drugs, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, runny or stuffy nose, cough, diarrhea, headache and some behavioral side effects. These are uncommon. Your doctor can give you more information about these drugs or you can check the CDC or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites.Top of Page
Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Follow instructions for taking these drugs.
There are two FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season. The brand names for these are Tamiflu® (generic name oseltamivir) and Relenza® (generic name zanamivir). Tamiflu® is available as a pill or liquid and Relenza® is a powder that is inhaled. (Relenza® is not for people with breathing problems like asthma or COPD, for example.)
To treat the flu, Tamiflu® and Relenza® are usually prescribed for 5 days, although people hospitalized with the flu may need the medicine for longer than 5 days.Top of Page
Yes. Children and pregnant women can take antiviral drugs. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) is approved for the treatment of influenza in persons aged 2 weeks and older. Oseltamivir is also approved for the prevention of influenza in persons aged one year and older. Zanamivir (Relenza®) is approved for the treatment of influenza in persons aged 7 years and older; and for the prevention of influenza in persons aged 5 years and older.
It’s very important that antiviral drugs are used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at higher risk for flu complications based on their age or underlying medical conditions. Other people also may be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor this season. Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.
Following is a list of all the health and age factors that are known to increase a person’s risk of getting serious complications from the flu:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Morbid obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
- People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin therapy
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
Other people at high risk from the flu:
- Adults 65 years and older
- Children younger than 5 years old, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- Page last reviewed: September 17, 2013
- Page last updated: December 19, 2014
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