Should you take Tamiflu when you get the flu?
This antiviral medication is used to prevent and treat certain strains of the flu. But should everyone take it?
No one likes having the flu — dealing with chills, achiness, runny nose, and cough. It can make you feel miserable and even put you in bed for a few days. We all want to recover as quickly as possible and get back to our normal lives. A prescription antiviral pill called Tamiflu® can help you bounce back quicker when you’re down with the flu.
What does it do?
Tamiflu, which is the brand name for a medication called oseltamivir, aids your body’s immune system in fighting off the flu virus.
You should start taking the medication within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms for it to be effective. Richard Oley, DO, a primary care physician at Geisinger Dallas, says, “If Tamiflu is taken early enough, it can shorten your illness by a couple of days and reduce the severity of your symptoms. It can also be prescribed preventively for high-risk patients who have been exposed to a family member with influenza.”
A pesky flu can sometimes turn into a more serious condition, like a sinus infection or pneumonia. Treating with Tamiflu helps make that less likely.
But remember: “Tamiflu is only effective against influenza virus. It doesn’t work for bacterial infections or other viral infections, like the common cold or COVID-19," says Dr. Oley.
Who should take Tamiflu?
Since it’s a prescription medication, you’ll need to contact your healthcare provider as soon as you feel symptoms coming on. It’s best for people who have certain conditions, such as:
- Asthma or other lung problems
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver, blood or neurological conditions
- Being significantly overweight
Even if you don’t have any of these conditions, talk to your doctor. They may have other reasons for you to take this medication, such as being in contact with young children or older adults. Your doctor can also advise you of any side effects and risks from taking Tamiflu.
What are the side effects of Tamiflu?
Common side effects include:
Usually, these side effects aren’t severe and occur during the first couple days of treatment. It usually helps if you take Tamiflu with food.
Dr. Oley adds, “More serious side effects are not as common. Children and teens may be at a higher risk for seizures, confusion or abnormal behavior early on during their illness. Keep an eye on anyone taking Tamiflu, watch for any unusual behavior and report it to a healthcare provider.”
Prevention is your best bet
You don’t need an antiviral at all if you don’t get sick, though. Preventing the flu starts with getting a flu shot. It’s the best way to reduce your risk of coming down with the flu and helps lessen the severity if you do get it.
If you get a flu vaccine every year, it lessens the chance of you getting sick and passing it on to family members, friends, coworkers and other people you meet.
These tried-and-true preventive measures can also help:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Clean high-touch surfaces often
- Stay away from sick people
Get your flu shot
4 reasons to get your flu shot
Meet Richard Oley, DO