Who Should Take Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)?

Tamiflu packages. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

Oseltamivir is the generic name for Tamiflu - an antiviral medication that can help treat or prevent the flu. It is the most commonly prescribed medication to treat influenza. 

Who Is It For?

Oseltamivir is approved by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to treat the flu in children as young as 2 weeks old. It is used to prevent the flu in children as young as 3 months old. 

This antiviral medication can shorten the duration of your symptoms by 1-2 days if you take it within the first 48 hours of feeling sick.

It may help even if you start it after the initial 48 hours of illness. Antiviral drugs may also help prevent serious complications from the flu like pneumonia. 

Although they can benefit nearly anyone who is sick with the flu, treatment with oseltamivir or another antiviral medication is especially important for those who are at high risk for complications from the flu. Most otherwise healthy (non-pregnant) adults will recover from the flu without a problem and generally don't need antiviral treatment. 

Those who can benefit the most from oseltamivir include:

  • Anyone who is hospitalized with influenza
  • Anyone with severe flu symptoms
  • Adults over 65
  • Children under 5, especially those under 2
  • Pregnant women and women who have given birth in the past 2 weeks
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Also, anyone with the following chronic medical conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease (COPD, Cystic fibrosis)
  • Endocrine disorders (Type 2 diabetes)
  • Kidney or Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Morbid obesity (BMI 40 or higher)
  • Anyone under age 19 on long term aspirin therapy
  • Those with a  significantly weakened immune system (HIV, AIDS, cancer, long term steroid treatment)

    What You Should Know Before You Take It

    Oseltamivir has been around for a while and has been studied in a wide range of populations. It is considered safe for young children and pregnant women. The risks of the flu in these populations are far greater than any concerns about the medication. 

    That being said, there are potential side effects that you should be aware of if you are taking it. The most commonly reported side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, runny or stuffy nose, headache or hallucinations. These side effects are rare but if you notice them in yourself or your child while taking oseltamivir, contact your health care provider. 

    Another Important Note:

    Oseltamivir and other antiviral medications should not be taken 48 hours before or 2 weeks after receiving the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) because it can render it ineffective. If you are diagnosed with the flu within two weeks of getting this vaccine, your health care provider may decide that you will benefit more from taking an antiviral medication and tell you to take it anyway.

    You should follow your health care providers instructions but may need another flu vaccine in this situation. 

    Oseltamivir and other antiviral medications do not affect injected flu vaccines since they are made from killed viruses, not weakened live viruses. 

    Sources:

    "What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs". Treatment - Antiviral Drugs 8 Jan 15. Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services. 21 May 15.

    "Oseltamivir". MedlinePlus 15 Jan 13. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 21 May 15.  

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