Tamiflu Side Effects for Children

Weigh the Risks and Benefits of Tamiflu to Treat or Prevent Influenza

A young girl being sick in a bucket
Vladimir Godnik / Getty Images

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is a popular antiviral flu medication during flu season. Its use is somewhat controversial, mainly because it is only supposed to decrease flu symptoms by a day, and it may have side effects. High rates of its use have also raised concerns that it may lead to flu virus strains that become resistant to flu medications. However, it does seem to help many children with the flu.

Benefits of Taking Tamiflu

One study found that Tamiflu "is safe and well-tolerated among asthmatic children, may reduce symptom duration and helps improve lung function and reduce asthma exacerbations during influenza infection."

Anecdotally, some parents report that it helps their kids get better right away and others report that it does almost nothing. Why the differences? Tamiflu only really helps if you start it within 48 hours, and some parents may underestimate when their child's symptoms really start. And some children may simply have a milder case of the flu than others.

But many people do think that taking Tamiflu is worth it, since getting your child over his flu symptoms even a day faster can be a good idea.

The CDC reports that:

  • Clinical trials and observational data show that early antiviral treatment can shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and may reduce the risk of complications from influenza (e.g., otitis media in young children, pneumonia, and respiratory failure).
  • Early treatment of hospitalized patients can reduce death.
  • In hospitalized children, early antiviral treatment has been shown to shorten the duration of hospitalization.

    Since Tamiflu also works as a preventative against the flu, if your child is around someone with the flu and they haven't had a flu shot, they can also take Tamiflu so that they don't get sick with the flu. The supply of Tamiflu can vary, and in the case of a shortage, it may be reserved for the people most at risk of flu complications.

    The generic form was approved in 2016.

    Tamiflu can also be important for those people who can't get a flu shot, such as if they have a severe allergy to eggs or a previous allergy to a flu shot.

    Downsides of Taking Tamiflu

    Some downsides to taking Tamiflu include:

    • Cost, as Tamiflu can be expensive. Compare prices with the generic version, oseltamivir.
    • The not so pleasant tutti-frutti flavor if your child has to take the Tamiflu suspension
    • The possible side effects of Tamiflu

    Also, Tamiflu is sometimes hard to find, as many pharmacies report shortages of the liquid form of Tamiflu and have to compound the medication from Tamiflu capsules for kids or have parents open the capsules themselves and mix it with a sweetened liquid, such as regular or sugar-free chocolate syrup.

    And many other people consider it a downside that Tamiflu only makes flu symptoms a little milder and only shorten the duration of the flu illness by a very short time. It is not like taking an antibiotic that can just cure your infection right away.

    Tamiflu Side Effects

    Possible Tamiflu side effects are a downside. Although not common, they can include:

    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • bronchitis
    • stomach pain
    • dizziness
    • headache

    More serious side effects have also sometimes been reported.

    According to the FDA, 'there have been reports (mostly from Japan) since Tamiflu became available of patients causing self-injury or experiencing delirium (confusion, hallucinations, speech problems) while using Tamiflu.' While these reports were mostly in teenagers and adults, it is still not known if they were actually caused by taking Tamiflu.

    While it is thought that "Children and teenagers with the flu may be at a higher risk for seizures, confusion, or abnormal behavior early during their illness," it is important to understand that "these serious side effects may happen shortly after beginning Tamiflu or may happen in people when the flu is not treated."

    Concerns About Resistance to Tamiflu

    As with antibiotics for bacterial infections, there is concern that wide use of antiviral medications can lead to resistance. Some resistance to Tamiflu was seen in one 2009 H1N1 influenza strain, but in less than 1 percent of the samples. Resistance hasn't yet been seen in other strains. The CDC continues to monitor this each year. They will change their advice as to which antiviral medications to use if resistance is spotted in the seasonally circulating flu viruses. There are other antiviral medications that can be used, and their effectiveness is also monitored each year.


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