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Should You Use Antivirals For The Flu?

The flu is hitting hard, and you may have friends or family who are getting 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 Health 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 (pills, liquids, inhaled powder or intravenous solution) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the flu, including the newest drug, Xofluza, which came out October 2018.

“The main advantage of Xofluza is that a single oral dose is effective, whereas Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) needs to be taken twice daily for five days,” Dr. Minior said. “However, both drugs similarly reduce the duration of flu-like symptoms. Tamiflu is now available generically and may be less expensive than Xofluza.”

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

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 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 Health Urgent Care near you.

Cold and Flu Infectious Disease
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