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Influenza (Flu) Treatment

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 one to two 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 2019-2020 flu season, CDC recommends the use of four antiviral drugs to treat flu: oseltamivir phosphate, zanamivir, peramivir, and baloxavir marboxil. Indications for each can vary by age. Only one antiviral drug (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, and 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 also available to help guide treatment.4


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Says “Take 3” Steps To Fight The Flu. Accessed August 29, 2019.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza Antiviral Medications: Summary for Clinicians. Accessed August 29, 2019.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. Accessed August 29, 2019.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information for Clinicians on Influenza Virus Testing. Accessed August 29, 2019

September 2019


Additional Resources

Flu Preparedness Guide

To help prepare for flu season, download the NFID Flu Preparedness Guide to learn more about best practices for treating and preventing the spread of flu, as well as tips on assembling a flu preparedness kit and emergency contact list