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 medication side effects may include nausea and vomiting. These side effects may be lessened if the drug is taken with food. 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 for some people, however.
An additional concern is that some strains of influenza have become resistant to oseltamivir, amantadine and rimantadine (Flumadine), which are older antiviral drugs.
Aug. 26, 2015
- Longo DL, et al., eds. Influenza. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2015. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed June 10, 2015.
- What you should know for the 2014-2015 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2014-2015.htm. Accessed May 31, 2015.
- Dolin R. Clinical manifestations of seasonal influenza in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 10, 2015.
- Bennett JE, et al. Influenza (including avian and swine influenza). In: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 27, 2015.
- The flu: What to do if you get sick. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm. Accessed May 31, 2015.