Most people who contract the flu recover in fewer than two weeks without any treatment by a doctor. Over-the-counter medications are often sufficient to treat symptoms such as fever and cough while the immune system clears the infection. Sometimes, however, NYU Langone doctors prescribe antiviral medication to help reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms.
Doctors often prescribe antiviral medication for people with severe flu symptoms—such as high fever, severe weakness or exhaustion, and dehydration—or for those who are at risk for developing complications. They include young children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years; people who are 65 or older; and those who have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, or asthma.
Antiviral medications work by preventing the virus from multiplying and spreading throughout the body. They also prevent the flu virus from invading cells in the respiratory tract, the area of the body most susceptible to the virus.
NYU Langone doctors prescribe one of two influenza medications—oseltamivir and zanamivir. People usually take medication for five days. If you’re hospitalized for another condition, you may need a longer course of treatment.
Those who are hospitalized may also receive an antiviral medication called peramivir through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion. It is given in a single dose.
To be effective, antiviral medications must be taken within the first 36 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. If taken early enough, medication can lessen symptoms, shorten the time you are ill by one or two days, and help prevent the illness from spreading to family or other close contacts. Antivirals can also prevent serious complications, like pneumonia.
For people with a chronic medical condition, treatment with an antiviral medication can mean the difference between having mild flu symptoms instead of serious ones, which can lead to a hospital stay.
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