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 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.
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: LightheadednessSinusitisNasal congestion CoughDiarrhea Nausea Headache BronchitisEar, nose, or throat infections
Like oseltamivir, zanamivir may cause unusual behavior, especially in children.
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 yearsAdults aged 65 years and olderPregnant womenPeople with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart failure, and lung disease or weakened immune systems such as patients with diabetes, and patients with HIV infection or getting chemotherapyPeople 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.
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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