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Should You Use Antivirals For The Flu?

It’s flu season again and you may have friends or family who get sick. Your best protection against catching the flu is a flu vaccine. Although it does not work 100 percent of the time, it can reduce the severity and duration of the illness. So, what happens if you still get the flu?

Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Urgent Care, shares the second-most important way, after your flu shot, to protect yourself.

Antivirals to Treat the Flu

Antiviral medications are a class of drugs that are used to prevent or shorten the duration of the influenza virus. They can also reduce the risk of complications for those with compromised immune systems and certain medical conditions, such as heart disease and respiratory conditions.

There are currently several medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the early treatment of the flu. These include:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate, also available in generic):
    Formulation/Dosage: Taken as a pill or liquid suspension twice a day for 5 days
    Approved Age: Adults and children (2 weeks of age and older)
  • Relenza (zanamivir):
    Formulation/Dosage: A powder given using an inhaler device twice a day for 5 days
    Approved Age: Adults and children (7 years and older)
  • Rapivab (peramivir):
    Formulation/Dosage: Given once intravenously by a health care provider
    Approved Age: Adults and children (2 years and older)
  • Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil):
    Formulation/Dosage: A pill taken as a single dose by mouth
    Approved Age: Adults and teens (12 years and older)

Know Your Symptoms

It can be tough to decipher between a common cold and the flu.

“The flu and common cold are both respiratory illnesses that are caused by viruses, but flu symptoms come on quickly and you’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Dr. Minior said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colds are generally milder and do not typically lead to more serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infection or require hospitalization.

When to Use Them

“Studies show that treating the flu with antiviral drugs works best if given within 48 hours of getting sick,” Dr. Minior said. “Starting them later can still be helpful though, especially if you have a high-risk health condition or are very sick.”

Your doctor may also prescribe you an antiviral if you are in close contact with someone who has the flu or if you are exposed to the flu and are unable to receive a flu shot because of an allergy.

Safe for Children

Several antiviral medications are now available for children, although the starting age varies depending on the medication. One drug, Oseltamivir, is recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for early treatment of flu in people of any age (2 weeks of age or older) and for the prevention of flu. Oseltamivir is available in liquid form but availability may be limited. If your doctor prescribes your child the capsule form, the CDC has these tips.

The Bottom Line

Antiviral medications can be very helpful in preventing and shortening the duration of the flu, but they should never replace flu vaccines.

“Remember, it’s never too late to get your flu shot, if you haven’t already,” Dr. Minior said. “If you believe you have the flu and may need medication, speak with your health care provider to determine what is best for you and your situation.”

Find a Banner Urgent Care near you.

For more information about the flu and getting the flu shot, check out these other articles:

How to Avoid a Sore Arm After a Flu Shot
Home with the Flu? Try These Helpful Remedies
How Is Flu Season Different During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Updated: Content edits were made to this article on September 7, 2021.
Cold and Flu Infectious Disease