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Influenza (Flu) Treatment

There are prescription medications called influenza (flu) antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prompt treatment for individuals who have flu or suspected flu and who are at higher risk of serious flu complications, including adults age 65 years and older, those with certain chronic conditions, and pregnant women, to help prevent serious flu complications, including hospitalization.

Antiviral drugs are not sold over the counter and are only available with a prescription. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections, and are not a substitute for annual flu vaccination.

Treatment of flu with antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms, shorten the duration of illness, and prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. Flu antivirals work best when taken within 48 hours of getting sick, but may still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness.

Antiviral drugs are safe and effective. For the 2021-2022 flu season, CDC recommends the use of four FDA-approved antiviral drugs to treat flu: oseltamivir phosphate, zanamivir, peramivir, and baloxavir marboxil. Indications for each can vary by age. Only one antiviral drug (oral oseltamivir) is recommended for use in pregnant women. Healthcare professionals are best equipped to determine if antiviral treatment is needed and which drug is most appropriate.

Because it is important to start an antiviral medication quickly, patients at increased risk should contact a healthcare professional at the first signs of flu symptoms, which may include: fever, aches (muscle, body, and headaches), chills, tiredness, with sudden onset. Note that fever is less common in older adults. Other symptoms may include a cough, runny/stuffy nose, and/or sore throat. Some individuals may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Healthcare professionals may treat patients based on their clinical judgment and knowledge about the level of local flu activity. Diagnostic tests are available to help guide treatment and can help distinguish between flu and COVID-19.

References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm. Accessed September 29, 2021.

 

Updated October 2021

 


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