• Fighting the Flu With Antiviral Drugs

    image for meds do's and don'ts article 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.
    For the 2012-2013 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) for the treatment of the flu.

    About Antivirals

    Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)

    Oseltamivir is approved for the treatment of the flu in people aged 2 weeks and older. This medicine can also be taken by pregnant women.
    Common side effects include nausea and vomiting. These may happen within the first two days of taking oseltamivir. There is also a risk, especially in children, of unusual behavior (eg, self-injury, confusion). It is important that people who take this medicine be closely monitored.

    Zanamivir (Relenza)

    Zanamivir, which comes in a disk inhaler, is approved for people aged seven years and older who do not have breathing or heart problems. Common side effects include:
    Like oseltamivir, zanamivir may cause unusual behavior, especially in children.

    Other Antiviral Medications

    While amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine) are also antivirals, they are in a different drug class than oseltamivir and zanamivir. Amantadine and rimantadine have been prescribed in the past for people with influenza A viruses. However, influenza A viruses have developed a resistance to these medicines, so they are not recommended now.

    Important Questions About Antivirals

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

    When Should You Take Them and for How Long?

    Antivirals should be taken as early as possible—within the first two days of your illness. In general, the medicine is taken twice a day for five days.

    What Are the Benefits of Taking Antivirals Medications?

    Antivirals can reduce your symptoms and shorten how long you have the flu. If you are hospitalized due to the flu, antivirals may be able to shorten your hospital stay and reduce your risk of complications.

    Can Antivirals Be Used to Prevent the Flu?

    Antivirals can be used to prevent the flu. But the best strategy is to be vaccinated every year! The CDC recommends that everyone aged six months and older get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

    RESOURCES

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

    Flu.gov http://www.flu.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Health Canada (Santé Canada) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/

    References

    2011-2012 influenza season: disease activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2011-2012.htm#treatment. Updated August 12, 2011. Accessed September 20, 2011.

    2011-12 influenza vaccine and vaccination information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/flu%5Fvaccine%5Fupdates.htm. Updated August 15, 2011. Accessed September 20, 2011.

    Antiviral drugs for seasonal flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/antiviral.htm. Updated August 23, 2010. Accessed September 20, 2011.

    Antiviral agents for influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/antiviral-agents-flu.htm. Updated February 11, 2013. Accessed February 26, 2013.

    FDA expands Tamiflu’s use to treat children younger than 1 year. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm333205.htm. Published December 21, 2012. Accessed February 26, 2013.

    Preventing and treating influenza (flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/risk/preventing%5Ftreating%5Fflu.pdf. Updated August 23, 2010. Accessed September 20, 2011.

    What you should know about flu antiviral drugs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm. Updated February 9, 2011. Accessed September 20, 2011.

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