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Flu Treatment With Antiviral Drugs

Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that may help prevent flu complications or shorten the severity and duration of flu once you have it. Here are the latest antiviral drug recommendations. After you read this, talk to your doctor to see if antiviral drugs can help you feel better.

What Are Antiviral Drugs?

Antiviral drugs are medicines that decrease the ability of flu viruses to reproduce. When used as directed, antiviral drugs may help reduce the duration of flu symptoms in otherwise healthy children and adults and may reduce the severity of common flu symptoms.

When Are Antiviral Drugs Recommended?

Antiviral drugs are recommended for both treatment and prevention of flu. Antiviral drugs work best when taken within 48 hours of onset of flu symptoms, but they may still offer benefits when taken later. These medications may reduce the duration of flu by one to two days and prevent severe flu complications.

How Are Antivirals Used in Preventing Flu?

Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral if you come in close contact with family members or others who have the flu and you want to try to avoid getting sick. However, the CDC discourages this practice, as it can lead to drug-resistant strains of the virus. Instead, the CDC recommends that people at risk of severe flu --  such as pregnant women or people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease -- begin antiviral treatment as soon as flu symptoms appear.

It's important, however, to remember that vaccination is the most effective way to prevent flu.

Which Antiviral Drugs Are Recommended for Both Treatment and Prevention of the Flu?

The CDC recommends the antiviral drugs Relenza and Tamiflu. Tamiflu, which is taken by mouth, is approved for treating flu is those over 2 weeks of age and preventing flu in people one year of age and older. Relenza is approved for treating flu in people 7 years and older and for preventing flu in people 5 years and older. Relenza is inhaled through the mouth.

Both Relenza and Tamiflu are most effective when given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, although they may still prevent severe flu complications when given more than 48 hours after symptoms appear.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Prevention Strategies.

Do Antiviral Drugs for Flu Have Side Effects?

Side effects of antivirals include nausea, vomiting, runny nose, stuffy nose, cough, diarrhea, and behavioral changes. Relenza is not recommended for individuals who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other lung disease. Based on your individual health status, your doctor will prescribe the antiviral drug that's safest for you.

When Do I Call the Doctor About Flu Antiviral Drugs?

Ideally, you should talk to your doctor about the flu vaccine and antiviral drugs, including side effects, before the flu season begins.

When you do get flu symptoms, it's important to call your doctor soon after symptoms appear. Flu drugs are most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms, although they may help prevent severe disease when taken later.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on November 18, 2013
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