Fighting the Flu: Do I Need an Antiviral Medication?

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

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

If you get the flu, prescription medications called flu antivirals can be used to treat the flu. Treatment may help prevent serious complications from flu.

Influenza is a respiratory viral illness that may cause a variety of symptoms. They include: fever, chills, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and tiredness.

What are flu antivirals?
Flu antivirals are prescription medicines that interfere with the growth of flu viruses. The two recommended most often are:

When are flu antivirals recommended?
Antivirals are often prescribed for:

Antivirals are especially important when the flu viruses that are circulating do not match up with the viruses in the season’s vaccine. In this case, people  who have the flu in the high-risk groups should get antiviral drugs. Some people can get the drugs at their doctor’s recommendation.

Others at risk of flu complications include American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as people with chronic medical conditions including:

Things to be aware of
Side effects
. As with all medicines, antivirals may have side effects. Antivirals may cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headache. Tell your doctor right away if you have any problems after taking the medication.

Drug resistance. Viruses can become resistant to antivirals.

Anti-virals can be lifesavers for people with severe illness or who are at higher risk of developing complications. Your doctor can assess your need for these medications and help you weigh the benefits and risks. Keep in mind that:

If you want to boost your chances of avoiding the flu, get a flu vaccination. That's your best bet for prevention.