If you have the flu, the only thing you want is to feel better as quickly as possible. Over-the-counter remedies can help relieve specific symptoms, but they cannot get rid of the virus that causes those symptoms.
That’s where a prescription for antiviral medication can help.
Influenza, which we commonly refer to as the flu, is caused by the influenza virus. Typical symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, aches and pains, cough, and a sore throat.
If you have the flu, you can usually expect to get better without going to the doctor within about two weeks. But complications from the flu such as pneumonia or bronchitis can be life-threatening.
A virus like the flu cannot be treated using antibiotics, which only work against bacterial infections. But there are antiviral medications available that specifically target the flu virus. These drugs are available by prescription only and are typically taken as pills, liquid, or inhaled powder.
Antiviral medications work by limiting the ability of the virus to reproduce. They can help reduce the symptoms of the flu and may shorten the time you are sick by one or two days.
They work best if they are taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms, but can also help if they are started later. There are two FDA-approved antiviral drugs: Relenza and Tamiflu.
People who are at increased risk of flu complications are more likely to need antiviral medications. Some people at increased risk include:
• Children younger than age 5, especially children younger than age 2
• Adults age 65 or older
• Women who are pregnant
• Certain ethnic groups including American Indians and Alaskan Natives
• People with chronic medical conditions including asthma, liver or kidney disorders, blood disorders, diabetes, COPD or other chronic lung conditions, and people with weakened immune systems
• People younger than 19 who are on long-term aspirin therapy
• People who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or higher)
Side effects of antiviral medications may include nausea, vomiting, runny or stuffy nose, diarrhea, and changes in behavior. Antiviral medications are not a replacement for a flu shot, which may help prevent catching the flu.
The best time to talk to your health care provider about antiviral flu treatments is before you get sick. If you develop flu symptoms and believe you would benefit from antiviral medications, of if you are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu, talk to your doctor as soon as possible after your symptoms begin.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. Web. December 11, 2012.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Influenza (Flu) Antiviral Drugs and Related Information. Web. December 11, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptoms & Severity. Web. December 11, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications. Web. December 11, 2012.
Web MD. Flu Treatment With Antiviral Drugs. Web. December 11, 2012.
Reviewed December 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith