Treatment: What You Need to Know
exclamation square light icon Flu vs. COVID-19
Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. It’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this fall and winter. While flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, one key difference is that there are vaccines to prevent flu.
- Can flu be treated?
Yes. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat flu illness.
- What are antiviral drugs?
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, an inhaled powder, or an intravenous solution) that fight against flu in your respiratory tract. 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 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.
If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have flu or suspected flu who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
You might need antiviral medication to treat flu:
- Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness.
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. Flu antivirals are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, intravenous solution, 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, when treatment is started early.
- It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with 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 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 flu (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
If you get sick:
Take Antivirals Drugs, if prescribed by a health care provider
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 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.