Can the flu be treated?
Yes. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat influenza illness.
What are antiviral drugs?
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.
Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
You might need antiviral medication to treat flu:
- Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter
- Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia
- It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat people who are very sick with the flu (for example, people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with the flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, either because of their age or because they have a high risk medical condition. 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.
Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments 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 (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
If you get sick:
1. Take Antivirals Drugs, if prescribed by a doctor
2. Take everyday precautions to protect others while sick
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
3. Stay home until you are better
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
- See Other Important Information for People Who are Sick.
- Page last reviewed: February 16, 2016
- Page last updated: February 28, 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