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Fighting the Flu With Antiviral Drugs

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About Antivirals | Important Questions About Antivirals

image for meds do's and don'ts articleThe 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 medications if you are at high-risk for complications.

For the 2012-2013 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends oseltamivir and zanamivir for the treatment of the flu.

About Antivirals

Oseltamivir is approved for the treatment of the flu in people aged 2 weeks and older. This medication 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 such as self-injury and confusion. It is important that people who take this medication be closely monitored.

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.

Important Questions About Antivirals

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, but especially those younger than two years
  • Adults aged 65 years and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic conditions such asasthma, heart failure, and lung disease or weakened immune systems such as patients with diabetes, and patients with HIV infection or getting chemotherapy
  • People aged 19 years and younger who are on long-term aspirin therapy

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

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.

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

US Department of Health and Human Services: Flu.gov

http://www.flu.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Antiviral agents for influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/antiviral-agents-flu.htm. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Antiviral dosage. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/antiviral-dosage.htm. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

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.

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 October 30, 2013.

Oseltamivir. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 22, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

People at high risk of developing flu-related complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm. Updated September 18, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Seasonal flu shot: questions and answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm. Updated September 26, 2013. Updated October 30, 2013.

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 September 17, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Zanamivir. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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