Usually, you'll need nothing more than bed rest and plenty of fluids to treat the flu. But in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). If taken soon after you notice symptoms, these drugs may shorten your illness by a day or so and help prevent serious complications.
Oseltamivir is an oral medication. Zanamivir is inhaled through a device similar to an asthma inhaler and shouldn't be used by anyone with respiratory problems, such as asthma and lung disease.
Antiviral side effects may include nausea and vomiting. Oseltamivir has also been associated with delirium and self-harm behaviors in teenagers.
Some researchers recommend further study on both of these drugs because of uncertainty about their effects beyond a slight reduction in the time of illness. Some studies have suggested that these medications can also help reduce the severity of complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends their use, however.
An additional concern is that some strains of influenza have become resistant to oseltamivir and to amantadine and rimantadine (Flumadine), which are older antiviral drugs.
Oct. 21, 2014
- Labella AM. Influenza. Medical Clinics of North American. 2013;97:621.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed June 19, 2014.
- Dolin R. Epidemiology of influenza. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 19, 2014.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Prevention and control of seasonal influenza with vaccines. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2013-2014. MMWR. 2013;62:1. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6207a1.htm?s_cid=rr6207a1_w. Accessed June 15, 2014.
- Zachary KC. Treatment of seasonal influenza in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 15, 2014.
- CDC recommendations for influenza antiviral medications remain unchanged. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/media/haveyouheard/stories/Influenza_antiviral2.html. Accessed June 19, 2014.
- Selecting viruses for the seasonal influenza vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/vaccine-selection.htm#composition. Accessed June 15, 2014.
- Preventing the flu: Good health habits can help stop germs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm. Accessed June 19, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.