Antiviral Drugs and the Flu

Over the last decade, antiviral prescription medications have been introduced to both reduce the effects and complications of the flu and prevent the flu for others. Antiviral drugs are a “second line of defense” against the flu and can be vitally important for those who are hospitalized with flu symptoms.

Antiviral drugs come in pill, liquid and inhaled powder forms. They basically work by preventing the further reproduction of flu viruses in your body. Currently, antiviral drugs are only sold or administered by prescription in the United States.

There are currently four kinds or brands of antiviral drugs approved for use by the FDA. You might recognize the brand names Tamiflu and Relenza, which are the two most popular. There are also Symmetrel and Flumadine, which are generic drugs. Note: the CDC is recommending Tamiflu and Relenza for individuals infected with the H1N1 virus.

Antivirals work by making flu effects milder and reducing the duration of your illness by 1 to 2 days. It is advised that antivirals are administered within two days of flu symptoms being reported, but can be used later for those who have severe complications and/or are hospitalized. If you become ill and have flu-like symptoms – headache, body aches, fever, congestion, cough – see your doctor immediately and he or she may prescribe antiviral drugs for you. You will likely take antivirals for five days.

While not the normal course of treatment, antiviral drugs have been used around the world to prevent flu. This has been proven to be 70 to 90% effective in preventing flu infection, but is not a substitute for the flu vaccination.

Return to the Safety Resource Center