Should You Take an Antiviral Medication like Tamiflu?

We hope that you and yours have been well so far. But we will likely continue to see significant numbers of new flu patients into the early spring. If you are one of the unlucky group who does not get through until spring without flu misery, we encourage you to call our office promptly, especially call if you are pregnant! You may benefit from a prescription for an anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu. These medications fight the flu virus inside your body. They are not antibiotics—their action is specific for the flu virus. Anti-viral drugs are not a substitute for the flu shot. They will not “cure” your flu. But they may make your symptoms milder and your illness shorter (1 to 2 days shorter, on average). They can also reduce your risk for serious flu complications like pneumonia that may require hospitalization. Not everyone who is ill will benefit from Tamiflu as you will see in the following FAQs for adults with flu symptoms.

Should you take an anti-viral flu medication like Tamiflu…

If you are in a risk group for complications from the flu? Pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions are significantly more likely to develop serious flu complications like pneumonia. Your physician will judge your risk based on your medical history. Serious conditions such as those involving heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system (including HIV), diabetes and severe obesity (BMI over 40) increase your risk. Individuals taking medications that depress the immune system (like cancer chemotherapy or steroid treatment) are also in this high-risk group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that these individuals begin anti-viral treatment as soon as they recognize likely flu symptoms. We will prescribe anti-viral treatment for these patients even if they have had symptoms for more than 48 hours.

If you are not in a risk group? Whether previously healthy individuals should begin anti-viral treatment depends on whether the flu is very probable based on their symptoms, how sick they feel, and when they began feeling symptoms. In general, we do not recommend anti-viral medication if you have already been sick for more than 48 hours because research finds that the drug is not very effective after this time. Flu symptoms generally include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and cough that come on fairly suddenly. They may also include headache, congestion, nausea, etc. Not everyone experiences these “classic” symptoms, so sometimes flu is really a “best guess” diagnosis. (*see below).

If you are not sick, but someone in your household is sick? The answer is yes, if you are in a risk group. If you are not in a risk group, we base our recommendation on how long ago you believe you were exposed to the flu and how close was your contact with the sick individual (ex. a child you are caring for vs. someone at the office). Anti-virals will not guaranty protection, and they are only protective while you are taking them.

If you have already had the flu shot? All of the above recommendations apply even if you have had the flu shot. Although the flu vaccine is the best available protection against flu, it is not 100% effective. If you are sick, you may still have the flu and anti-virals may offer you some benefit

In short, whether you should take a medication like Tamiflu is a matter of judgment based on your individual situation. Some flu viruses are resistant to anti-viral medications. Side effects—if any—are generally mild, but may include nausea, an allergic reaction, or rarely, certain behavioral/neurologic or other side effects. Stop taking the drug and call your physician if you experience an adverse reaction to this or any medication.

We hope that you will not need Tamiflu this year, but we are glad to prescribe it when needed.

*We do not rely on the flu test when prescribing anti-virals because the medication is most effective when started promptly. Rapid flu tests are not sufficiently accurate.