To Tamiflu or not to Tamiflu: Do you need an antiviral to fight the flu?
Killer Flu! Worst Flu Season Ever! Get the Flu Shot Before It’s Too Late! As the news headlines screech about the dangers of the 2017-2018 season flu virus, it’s natural to be worried—especially if you’re a parent, since children are more vulnerable to flu-related complications.
This year’s main strain, H3N2, is particularly vicious. Along with other such flu strains as H1N1 and influenza B, which are common revisitors, H3N2 can increase the risk of flu-related complications, like pneumonia, even if you’re otherwise healthy.
Enter the thought on everyone’s mind: Short of quarantining your kids for the remainder of winter or avoiding a 20-foot radius of anyone coughing, sneezing, or sniffling, what else can you do to flu-proof your kids (and yourself)? Aside from the most recommended prevention strategies—getting the flu shot and washing your hands with soap and water regularly—can drugs like Tamiflu help prevent or treat the flu?
Here’s everything you need to know about drugs like Tamiflu—so you can decide if they’re right for you and your family to help prevent the flu.
1. Drugs like Tamiflu are considered antiviral. Antiviral drugs are medicines (pills, liquid, an inhaled powder, or an intravenous solution) that prevents influenza A (H1N1) and B viruses from multiplying in your body.
2. The generic form of Tamiflu is oseltamivir. Oseltamivir was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016. Generic drugs approved by the FDA have the same high-quality and strength as brand-name drugs like Tamiflu, but are often much less expensive.
3. Antiviral drugs can (sometimes) be used to prevent the flu. Antiviral drugs may be recommended for high-risk folks, like front-of-the-line healthcare workers, children, the elderly, or pregnant women, or people allergic to the flu shot, to help prevent the flu. Still, they’re meant to be a second line of defense, since flu viruses can become resistant to antivirals and they’re not as effective as the flu vaccine for warding off the flu.
4. Antiviral drugs are NOT a replacement for the flu shot. Although antiviral drugs may be beneficial for certain people when used along with the flu shot (especially with H3N2 in the mix this season), the vaccine is the best and most current way to protect yourself. Flu strains change every year, so flu vaccines are modified too based on researchers estimates from previous flu seasons.
5. Timing is key. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when taken within two days of showing flu symptoms. Starting them later, however, can still be beneficial, especially for people who are at high risk for serious flu complications or in the hospital with a more severe illness. Your doc can provide guidance on whether taking Tamiflu makes sense for your specific situation.
6. Antiviral drugs can help ease flu symptoms. If treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with the flu, antiviral drugs may help lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They may also help prevent flu-related complications, like pneumonia.
7. Antiviral drugs aren’t for everyone. Healthy adults probably don’t need to take antivirals, since they’ll likely recover with self-care strategies, like rest and fluids. They may be recommended for people who are at an increased risk for complications, like those with chronic conditions, children, or the elderly.
8. Antiviral drugs have side effects. The most common side effects of antiviral drugs are nausea and vomiting. Other, less common side effects, like headache, have also been reported.
9. Antiviral drugs require a prescription. Drugs like Tamiflu are not available over the counter—they must be prescribed by your doctor. If you think antiviral drugs are right for you, talk to your doctor.
Influenza Antiviral Medications: Summary for Clinicians. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/summary-clinicians.htm)
What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm)
Influenza Antiviral Drug Resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/antiviralresistance.htm)
Questions & Answers: Antiviral Drugs, 2009-2010 Flu Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/antiviral.htm)
Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers. Food and Drug Administration, 2017. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm188859.htm)
The FDA approves first generic version of widely used influenza drug, Tamiflu. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm514854.htm)
Jump in H3N2 flu prompts CDC warning, antiviral reminder. University of Minnesota, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, 2017. (Accessed on February 27, 2018 at http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2017/12/jump-h3n2-flu-prompts-cdc-warning-antiviral-reminder)