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Using Antiviral Medications for the Flu

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Updated May 21, 2009

What Are Antiviral Medications?:

Antiviral medications are a class of drugs that are typically used to prevent or shorten the duration of the influenza virus. They are considered a second line of defense against the flu. Four different antiviral medications are currently approved for use in the United States. They include Tamiflu (oseltamavir), Relenza (zanamavir), amantadine and rimantadine. However, the flu virus is extremely resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, so these two medications are not recommended to prevent or treat influenza at this time.

When to Use Antiviral Medications:

Your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medications for you:

  • When you have the flu and want to shorten the duration of the symptoms. In this case, the medication must be started within the first 48 hours of symptoms to be effective.
  • When you are in close contact with someone who has the flu, such as a family member (paired with the vaccine)
  • When there is a widespread outbreak in your community and you or someone you are close to are at high risk for complications (paired with the vaccine)
  • When you may be exposed to the flu and the flu shot is not effective, or you cannot get it because of an allergy

How to Use Antiviral Medications:

Each medication is given in a different way and may not be appropriate for certain groups of people. Your healthcare provider can determine which medication is right for you and your situation.

The Bottom Line:

Antiviral medications can be very useful in helping prevent or shorten the duration of the flu. However, they should not replace flu vaccines as your primary means of prevention. Because all of the antiviral medications are available only be prescription, it is important to see your healthcare provider if you believe you have the flu or may need antiviral medications to prevent it. Only your healthcare provider can determine what is best for you and your situation.

Sources:

”Key Facts About Antiviral Drugs and Influenza (Flu).” Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases 18 Sep 07. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. 01 June 08.

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