We recently reported that your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs for treatment of the flu, especially for those with higher risk of flu complications. Treatment with an influenza antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay. Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about treating the flu with antiviral drugs.
What are the benefits of antiviral drugs?
When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They can also prevent serious flu-related complications such as pneumonia. This is especially important for people with a high-risk health condition like asthma or diabetes.
Should I still get the flu vaccine?
Yes. Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While flu vaccines can vary in how they work, flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick.
What are the possible side effects of antiviral drugs?
Some side effects have been associated with the use of influenza 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites.
When should antiviral drugs be taken for treatment?
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 has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
What antiviral drugs are recommended?
There are three antiviral drugs recommended by the CDC and approved by the FDA. These are Tamiflu, Relenza, and Rapivab. Tamiflu comes as a pill or liquid, and Relenza is an inhaled powder. Relenza should NOT be used in anyone with breathing problems such as asthma or COPD. Rapivab is administered intravenously by a health care provider. There are no generic flu antiviral drugs.
How long should antiviral drugs be taken?
To treat flu, Tamiflu and Relenza are usually taken for 5 days.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu or call 800-CDC-INFO.