Fighting the Flu: Do I Need an Antiviral Medication?

A flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu. But if you do come down with it, antivirals may help.

By Lila Havens, Staff Writer

You can't be cured of influenza (flu) once you get it. But there are prescription medications that may make the illness shorter and less severe. These are called flu antivirals.

Getting a flu shot each year is still the best way to prevent the flu. But there are some cases in which a flu antiviral may help.

Learn more about antivirals, when and how they are used, and whether they might be right for you.

What are flu antivirals?
Flu antivirals are medicines that interfere with the growth of flu viruses. Four antivirals are available, but these 2 are used most often and are most effective:

Two other antivirals - amantadine and rimantadine - have limited use because influenza A viruses are becoming resistant to these medications.

When are flu antivirals recommended?
It normally takes about 2 weeks for the flu shot to become effective once it is given. If there is an outbreak of flu during this time, flu antivirals can be given under certain circumstances for added protection.

Flu antivirals can also be given once a person has the flu to help treat the illness and prevent complications.

Antivirals are most often prescribed for:

Flu antivirals can also be given if it is found that the strain of flu in an area is different from the one covered by the vaccine.

Certain people should not take flu antivirals. These include:

What are the drawbacks of taking flu antivirals?
Some of the possible drawbacks of antivirals are:

Should I take an antiviral?
Doctors prescribe flu antivirals to help treat or prevent the flu in certain people. Your doctor can assess your need for these medications and help you weigh the benefits and risks of these drugs.

If you're considering an antiviral to treat the flu, keep in mind that:

If you want to avoid the flu, get a flu shot. That's your best bet for prevention.