Flu Treatment: What You Need to Know

Treatment Questions
  • Can flu be treated?
    Yes. There are prescription medications called “influenza antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat flu illness. These drugs work best when started early, such as one to two days after your flu symptoms begin.
  • What are flu antiviral drugs? 
    Flu 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.

Antiviral Drugs

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 at increased risk for complications, are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. CDC recommends early treatment for people who have flu or suspected flu who are at higher risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease.

Antiviral drugs can help 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 might also prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, when treatment is started early.
  • Antiviral drugs are recommended 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 higher risk medical condition. Other people also might be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor. Most otherwise-healthy people who get flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.
  • Antiviral drugs should be started early after symptoms begin. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatments when they are started within two days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a higher-risk health condition or is very sick from flu (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.

Antibiotics won’t help

When you have flu, antibiotics will not help you feel better. Antibiotics don’t treat the flu virus, and their side effects could cause harm.

Side effects of antibiotics can range from minor issues, like a rash, to very serious health problems, such as

More information about appropriate antibiotic use is available at Antibiotic Do’s & Don’ts | Antibiotic Use | CDC.

If you get sick:

Take Antivirals Drugs, if a health care provider prescribes them

Take everyday precautions to protect others while sick

  • While sick, stay away from 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 and wash your hands.
  • Wearing a mask is an additional prevention strategy that you can choose to further protect yourself and others.
  • When worn by a person with an infection, masks reduce the spread of the virus to others. Masks can also protect wearers from breathing in infectious particles from people around them.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as countertops, handrails, and doorknobs regularly.
  • You can improve air quality by bringing in fresh outside air, purifying indoor air, or gathering outdoors. Cleaner air can reduce the risk of exposure to viruses.
  • More information is available about core and additional prevention strategies.

Stay home until you are better

  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home until for at least 24 hours both are true:
  • Your symptoms are getting better overall, and
  • You have not had a fever (and are not using fever-reducing medicine).*
  • After these two criteria are met, there are some additional precautions that can be taken to protect others from respiratory illness. More information is available at About Preventing Spread of Respiratory Viruses When You’re Sick.

*More information about how long people are contagious with flu and what to do if you did not have a fever is available at Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick | CDC.

Digital Resources
What You Should Know About Influenza (Flu) Antiviral Drugs pdf thumbnail
What You Should Know About Antiviral Drugs
Treating Influenza (Flu) pdf thumbnail
Treating Influenza (Flu)