Annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu. Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for annual flu vaccination; however, prescription antiviral medications are a key component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Take 3 Actions to Fight Flu, serving as an additional line of defense that can be used to treat flu.1 All individuals who are hospitalized, severely ill, or at high risk for developing serious flu-related complications should be treated with antiviral drugs immediately if flu is suspected.2
Treatment of flu with antiviral drugs can reduce influenza symptoms, shorten the duration of illness by 1-2 days, and prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. Antivirals work best when taken within 48 hours of getting sick, but may still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness.2
Antiviral drugs are safe and effective. For the 2020-2021 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. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications; healthcare professionals are best equipped to determine if antiviral treatment is needed and which drug is most appropriate.3
Because it is important to start antiviral medication quickly, high-risk patients 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-19.4
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Says “Take 3” Steps To Fight The Flu. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm. Accessed September 23, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza Antiviral Medications: Summary for Clinicians. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/summary-clinicians.htm. Accessed September 23, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm. Accessed August 29, 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information for Clinicians on Influenza Virus Testing. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/diagnosis/index.htm. Accessed September 23, 2020
Annual flu vaccination can help protect individuals and prevent additional strain on an already overburdened healthcare system
Answers to common myths about influenza and flu vaccines
Influenza (flu) is not just a common cold. Anyone can get sick with flu, but certain people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications.