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Frequently Asked Questions About Tamiflu

Lena Kirakosyan's picture
Antiviral drugs for flu

Here is a list of frequently asked questions about Tamiflu, taken, shortened, and translated from the "Univision Noticias." Hopefully, these will answer any questions one may have about antiviral drugs.


Were you prescribed Tamiflu?

Here, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about the medication that sometimes needs to be taken for the flu. Antivirals are the only drugs approved by the FDA to shorten the duration of the virus and to reduce the severity of its symptoms. But, like any other medicine, they can trigger side effects. Tamiflu is the most popular of the antiviral drugs. It is not infallible, nor will everyone who is infected have to take it, but if your doctor prescribed it to you, surely there is a reason. We answer all the questions that you may have about treatment using this and other antivirals.

How do antivirals work?

They inhibit the growth of the virus in the body. They will not cure you completely, since the flu, like any other virus, follows its own due course, but antivirals can shorten the duration of the flu (on average about 17 hours in adults and 29 hours in children) and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Is Tamiflu the only type that exists?

No. There are several types of antivirals. Although the best-known type is Tamiflu, or its generic version, Oseltamivir (either in capsules or liquid), there are two others that the Center for Disease Control recommends against the flu this season: Zanamivir (Relenza, which is an inhaled powder), and Rapivab, which is only used intravenously in very sick patients who are already hospitalized. Usually, treatment with the first two lasts five days.

I have symptoms of the flu, how do I know if I need an antiviral?

The CDC recommends that people over 65, pregnant women, adults with chronic diseases such as asthma, or children under five years of age who are at a higher risk of developing complications from influenza, take antiviral medications. Everyone else is simply advised to rest, stay hydrated, and take analgesics to control discomfort, as long as they do not have too severe symptoms. If such is your case, it is essential that you go to the doctor so they can determine if you need treatment.

Can I buy Tamiflu at any pharmacy or do I need a prescription?

All antivirals require a medical prescription.

Can I start taking the antivirals at any time?

Antivirals such as Tamiflu are more effective if you start treatment during the first 48 hours of having symptoms. So, it is essential that you do not delay going to the doctor if you are pregnant, have small children, or suffer from any disease. There are studies that indicate antivirals could still help if taken after that window of time.

Is it possible to stop treatment if symptoms improve, or should I continue taking it as prescribed?

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If you stop taking the antiviral too early or skip some doses, you may interfere with your recovery. It is best to follow the complete treatment that usually lasts five days. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions. "In general, the treatment lasts five days (although it varies in some cases). Usually, the symptoms subside on the third day, but we continue the treatment for two more days to avoid relapse and to prevent the development of influenza strains,” explains Dr. Aileen Marty, an expert on contagious diseases, to Univision News.

Can Tamiflu be used to prevent infection?

Yes, in some specific cases (for example, if several members of a family contracted the flu) it can be taken preventively. However, it should never be used as a substitute for the vaccine and should only be taken at the discretion of the doctor. Remember that there is always a limited supply of these medications, and the idea is for it to be prescribed to those who really need it.

Isn’t it more effective to take an antibiotic?

No. Remember that influenza is a virus and, therefore, no antibiotic can eliminate it. The only scenario in which it is possible to be prescribed antibiotics is if you develop an infection as a result of the flu. If in doubt, consult your health provider and do not self-medicate.

Are antivirals safe for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, or children?

Yes. They can take antivirals if the doctor considers it necessary because it is believed that the benefits outweigh the risks of complications from the flu.

What are the possible side effects of antivirals?

The most frequent (although they do not always occur) are headaches, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. To avoid digestive problems, take the medicine at mealtime and, perhaps, consider the option of taking a probiotic while the treatment lasts. Some cases of psychiatric problems, such as hallucinations or memory loss in children and adolescents, have also been reported, although they are unlikely.

Is it true that Tamiflu causes hallucinations?

Although this adverse reaction to Tamiflu (commercial brand of Oseltamivir) is not common, it can occur (usually in children) and there is no way to predict it in advance. During this flu season, some cases have been reported, but experts insist that it is a rarity and that it is up to the doctor to weigh the benefits versus the risks of the treatment. "Although it is true that Oseltamivir can cause psychiatric symptoms such as mood swings, hallucinations, insomnia, or memory loss, it is not common for this to occur. In fact, there is a great debate about whether it is really Tamiflu that causes these problems or if it is a combination of certain genetic conditions with the use of medications such as steroids plus the antiviral," explains Marty. If your child is prescribed Tamiflu, do not be alarmed, but stay alert and consult your doctor if you notice any strange behavior.

How much does treatment with antivirals cost? Will my insurance cover it?

The cost of antiviral medication varies according to which insurance plan you have. The generic version of Tamiflu is cheaper than the original brand (which can cost $165), but not necessarily cheap. If your policy does not cover these medications or you do not have health insurance, there are ways to reduce the price. The Consumer Reports website explains, for example, that GoodRx offers a coupon to buy the generic Tamiflu for just under $52 at Walmart. They cite HealthWarehouse, which sells the generic at $85. Take into account that if your doctor believes that you need the treatment, investing in it could save you from hospitalization expenses.

Reference: Univision Noticias