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 take antiviral drugs?
- Can pregnant women take antiviral drugs?
- Who should take antiviral drugs?
Yes. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat flu illness.
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, an inhaled powder, or an intravenous solution) 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 are at high risk of serious flu complications (see box below for the full list of high risk factors). 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 not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent seasonal influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu (including seasonal flu and variant flu viruses) if you get sick.
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 at high risk of serious flu complications, 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.
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 is at high risk of serious flu complications or is very sick from the flu. Follow instructions for taking these drugs.
There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season to treat influenza:
- oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®),
- zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and
- peramivir (trade name Rapivab®).
Generic oseltamivir is available as a pill. Tamiflu® is available as a pill or liquid. Relenza® is a powder that is inhaled. (Relenza® is not recommended for people with breathing problems like asthma or COPD.) Rapivab® is given intravenously by a health care provider.
To treat the flu, oseltamivir and zanamivir are usually prescribed for 5 days, although people hospitalized with the flu may need the medicine for longer than 5 days. Peramivir is given intravenously for 15 to 30 minutes.
Yes. Children can take two of the approved antiviral drugs—oseltamivir and zanamivir. Oseltamivir is recommended by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for the treatment of influenza in persons aged 2 weeks and older, and for the prevention of influenza in persons aged 3 months and older. Zanamivir is recommended 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. Peramivir is recommended for use in adults aged 18 and older.
Yes. Oral oseltamivir is preferred for treatment of pregnant women because it has the most studies available to suggest that it is safe and beneficial.
It’s very important that antiviral drugs are used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health. Other people also may be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor. Most people who are otherwise healthy and get the flu 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)
- People who are obese with a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher
- People younger than 19 years of age on long-term aspirin therapy
- People with a 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
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- Page last reviewed: July 22, 2016
- Page last updated: January 5, 2017
- Content source:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs