Fighting the Flu with Antiviral Drugs

Flu, Seasonal Tips Steward Health Care

The best way to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated every year. But what if you end up with the flu? You may need to take prescription antiviral medicines if you are at high-risk for complications. Antiviral drugs work by inhibiting the spread of the virus within the upper respiratory tract. As treatment, they can reduce symptoms of the flu and shorten its duration. The sooner they are given, the more effective they are. These drugs can also make you less contagious to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following antiviral medicines for the treatment of the flu:

  • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is approved for the treatment of the flu in people aged 2 weeks and older. This medicine can also be taken by pregnant women. Tamiflu is usually prescribed for a five-day duration and it is important that people who take this medicine be closely monitored.
  • Zanamivir (Relenza), which comes in a disk inhaler, is approved for people aged 7 years and older who do not have breathing or heart problems. It is typically prescribed for five days.
  • Peramivir (Rapivab®) is an intravenous medication given to a patient by a health care provider.

Like any prescription drug, you will need to discuss your medical history with your doctor before deciding if an antiviral drug is right for you. All antivirals must be prescribed by a doctor

Are These Medications Right for You?

Most people who get the flu do not need antivirals. Your doctor may recommend these drugs if you:

  • Have severe flu symptoms
  • Have the flu and are at high risk for serious complications

People who are at high risk include:

  • Children younger than 5 years old (especially those younger than 2 years)
  • Adults aged 50 years and older
  • Pregnant women and women who have recently given birth
  • People with chronic conditions (asthma, heart failure, lung disease) or weakened immune systems (patients with diabetes, patients with HIV infection)
  • People aged 18 years and younger who are on long-term aspirin therapy

*Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov

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