It is difficult to watch the news today and not become concerned about the flu. The flu has caused 84 pediatric deaths since October 2017 and has been designated as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Antiviral medication, such as the commonly discussed Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), is a critical weapon in our battle against the flu.
Tamiflu is a brand name antiviral drug used to treat the flu. It works by attacking the flu virus to keep it from multiplying in your body and by reducing the symptoms of the flu. A generic version of oseltamivir phosphate has also been approved by the FDA.
Tamiflu is used to treat people two weeks of age and older who have had flu symptoms (influenza A and B viruses) for no more than two days. Tamiflu is also sometimes used for prevention of the flu in people one year of age and older. A common example would be a pregnant woman who is caring for other family members with flu.
It is very important to note that no antiviral medication is a substitute for a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone receive a flu shot this year, even if you haven’t already.
Not everyone with the flu will be prescribed an antiviral medication, but if you are, here is why you should take it:
· Shorter sick time – When given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, research shows antiviral drugs lessen a person's sick time by about 17 hours in adults and 29 hours in children.
· Milder symptoms – Antiviral drugs can make flu symptoms less severe, making it easier for you to rest and recover.
· Less chance of dangerous complications – Antivirals may also prevent serious flu complications , so they are particularly important for those at high risk like small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. Treatment with an antiviral drug may mean the difference between milder flu and a serious illness that requires a hospital stay.
Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick, but the CDC indicates that starting them later can still be helpful , especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Always follow your doctor’s instructions for taking any drug and ask your pharmacist if you have any questions.
The most common side effects of Tamiflu are:
Several recent news reports have highlighted some of the scarier Tamiflu side effects, specifically the risk of hallucinations . People with the flu, particularly children and adolescents, may be at an increased risk of seizure, confusion, or abnormal behavior during their illness. Experts recommend that children and adolescents who take an antiviral medication be monitored very closely throughout treatment.
A course of Tamiflu can often cost over $100, though some retail chains are making it available for under $70. It is usually covered by insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Generic flu medications provide a safe and effective way to treat illness while saving money . If your doctor has prescribed antiviral medication and you are concerned about cost, speak up! Your doctor and your pharmacist can make recommendations to help you save as much money as possible.
This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series by Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D, the Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio here .
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