Antiviral Flu Medications

Published: October 23, 2023
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

The flu season usually occurs in the fall and winter months, with the peak time between December and February each year. Before the flu season, it is important to know which treatments are available for you and your family.

What is important to know about the flu?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines influenza (flu) as a “contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.” They also note that it can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. It is estimated that about 8% of the US population (range 3 – 11%) get the flu each year.

What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms can include feeling feverish or having a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.

What should I do if I get flu symptoms?
You should see your healthcare provider right away, especially if you are at higher risk of complications due to having asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. Antiviral medications are available to treat the flu, but you need to begin treatment within two days of the start of symptoms to have the greatest benefit.

What antiviral medications are available to treat the flu?
Antiviral medications are only available with a prescription from your healthcare provider. These medications are reported to reduce fever and symptoms and may reduce the time you are sick by about one day. Antiviral treatment may also reduce the risk of complications in children and hospitalization in older adults.

There are 4 antiviral medications available to treat the flu:

  1. oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu® or generic): given by mouth as a capsule or liquid twice daily for 5 days in individuals 14 days of age and older.
  2. zanamivir (Relenza®):  given by an inhaler through the mouth twice daily for 5 days in individuals 7 years of age and older, who do not have asthma or other breathing difficulties.
  3. peramivir (Rapivab®): given into a vein as a single dose in individuals 6 months of age and older.
  4. baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza®): given by mouth as a tablet or liquid as a single dose for children 5-12 years of age (without any ongoing medical conditions) and in all people older than 12 years of age.

Antiviral medications may reduce your symptoms and how long you are sick. But the best way to reduce getting a serious case of the flu is to be vaccinated each year in the fall, at least a couple weeks before the flu season begins.

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