Antivirals are medicines that make it harder for viruses to grow in your body. You can take an influenza (flu) antiviral either to prevent the flu or to treat the flu after you have it. Their main use is to help protect people who are at high risk for serious problems from the flu, such as pneumonia.
There are two types of antiviral medicines for the flu:
There are two main types of influenza virus—type A and type B. Type A causes most flu outbreaks. The M2 inhibitors help fight influenza A viruses. The neuraminidase inhibitors help fight both A and B viruses.
These antiviral medicines will not help fight other types of viral infections, such as colds.
Note: How well antiviral medicines work can vary from year to year as flu viruses change. For the past few years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised doctors not to use M2 inhibitors to treat or prevent the flu.1 These medicines have not worked against most types of the flu virus. If you decide to take an antiviral, your doctor can prescribe the best one for you. For the most recent news on antiviral drugs, see the CDC's Web page on seasonal flu at www.cdc.gov/flu.
Antivirals are most often used to help control flu outbreaks in settings such as nursing homes and hospitals, where people who are at high risk for serious problems live close together.
Antivirals may be given to:
Doctors may also prescribe antivirals for anyone who is diagnosed with the flu within the first 2 days of illness. This may help shorten the course of the flu and help prevent its spread.
Some antivirals are not intended for children or for people who have serious breathing problems, such as asthma or COPD. But your doctor can prescribe the correct type.
Antivirals can cost a lot—from about $70 to $100. They may not be worth the cost for people who are not at high risk from the flu.
If you get the flu, your doctor may advise you to take antivirals to treat the flu if:
Your doctor may advise you to take antivirals to prevent the flu if:
|Take antivirals for the flu||Don't take antivirals for the flu|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"My dad has Alzheimer's, so he is in a nursing home. The residents get a flu shot every year, but last winter they had a flu outbreak in the home. They gave antivirals to everyone in his unit, and luckily he didn't get sick. He's so weak that I don't think he would have survived if he had gotten the flu."
— Danni, age 48
"I got the flu last winter, and it was pretty miserable. Somebody told me there was antiviral medicine I could take that could help, so I asked my doctor about it. He said it's mostly used for people who would be in danger if they got sick. He said he could prescribe it if I wanted, but it would only shorten the flu by about a day. I'm young and strong, so why spend the money? But this year I'm going to get a flu shot for sure."
— Cody, age 29
"Yesterday my wife came down with what I know are flu symptoms. I have to fly to China on Friday for a big meeting. I called my doctor, and she prescribed antivirals for me. I hope they work, because I can't afford to get sick now."
— Paul, age 34
"I help take care of my brother, Frank, who is bedridden. I had a bad reaction to the flu shot when I last got it, so my doctor suggested that I take an antiviral medicine instead. This helps keep me from getting the flu and passing it to Frank."
— Maybelle, age 67
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to take antivirals
Reasons not to take antivirals
I want to get over the flu as quickly as possible.
I don't want to take medicine if it will only shorten the flu by 1 day.
I'm very worried about problems from the flu, such as pneumonia.
I'm not worried about pneumonia or other problems from the flu.
I want to do everything I can to stop being sick.
I don't want to go to the doctor or take medicine unless I really need to.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
NOT taking antivirals
1. If you are age 65 or older, should you take antiviral medicine if you get the flu?
2. Can antiviral medicines help you get over the flu faster, no matter when you start taking them?
3. Could you still need to take antiviral medicines for the flu, even if you had a flu vaccine?
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology|