Quality and Population Health

Treating Flu with Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications may be a treatment option for patients with the flu. Antiviral medications are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections. Antiviral medications can prevent flu complications, like pneumonia. The CDC has recommended four FDA-approved antiviral drugs to treat flu this season:

  • Oseltamivir phosphate (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®)
  • Zanamivir (trade name Relenza®)
  • Peramivir (trade name Rapivab®)
  • Baloxavir marboxil (trade name Xofluza®)

Antiviral treatment works best when started soon after flu illness begins. When treatment is started within two days of symptoms, antiviral medications can lessen fever and flu symptoms and shorten the time a patient is sick by about one day. They may also reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, respiratory complications like pneumonia requiring antibiotics, and hospitalization in adults.

For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral medication can mean having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay. People at high risk of flu complications include young children, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes (including gestational diabetes) and heart disease.

For adults hospitalized with flu illness, some studies have reported that early antiviral treatment can reduce their risk of death. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications.