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What is Tamiflu and how does it work?

January 17, 2018

With this year's flu season being the worst since the 2014-15 flu season, you are probably hearing a lot about the drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate). If you have never taken it (or heard of it), you may be wondering what it is and what it does. One of the most common questions is, "If the flu is a virus, how is there a drug that cures it?"


In the case of Tamiflu, the answer is that it is not necessarily a "cure." Tamiflu is used as a treatment or preventative drug against the flu. When you test positive for the flu or are living in the home with someone that has tested positive, often your doctor will prescribe Tamiflu to you to ease your symptoms or prevent the virus from spreading to you. (Learn how to prevent the spread of the flu here.)


How does it work?


Tamiflu does not completely kill the flu virus. What it does is attack the flu virus in your body to keep it from multiplying; this helps ease your symptoms and often reduces the severity and length of the flu. Tamiflu must be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms, otherwise it will not be effective.


Symptoms of the flu include fevers, chills, aches and pains, cough, and sore throat. The effects of the flu can last from 7 to 14 days.


If you are living in the home with someone that has tested positive for the flu, taking Tamiflu before you become sick can help prevent you from getting it altogether.


If you are able to take Tamiflu, it can aide in preventing further health complications such as pneumonia and secondary bacterial infections such as bronchitis (find out how to tell the difference).


Who can take it?


Tamiflu can be prescribed to treat those age 2 weeks and older. It can be prescribed as a preventative medication to those 1 year and older.


The drug may also be taken by women that are pregnant. If you are pregnant and test positive for the flu, talk with your doctor to determine whether taking Tamiflu is the best course of action.


Tamiflu comes either in pill form or as an oral suspension liquid that must be mixed by a pharmacist. If you receive a bottle of Tamiflu that is only powder, return it to the pharmacy immediately to be mixed properly by the pharmacist. You may begin to feel better before taking your entire prescribed amount, but it is highly important to finish your full dosage.


It is very important to note that Tamiflu does not replace the flu vaccine. Flu vaccination is still the best way to prevent the contraction and spreading of the flu virus.


Before you take Tamiflu, it is important to tell your doctor about any conditions you may have, especially any of the following:

  • Kidney disease

  • Heart disease

  • Chronic lung disease

  • Any condition that causes swelling of the brain

  • Weak immune system cause by disease or medication

  • Hereditary fructose intolerance

  • If you have received the flu vaccine in the past 2 weeks

What are the side effects?


As with all drugs, Tamiflu does have the potential for side effects. Most of the side effects are often gone as your body adjusts to the drug and do not need medical treatment. If any of the listed side effects last too long or are bothersome, talk with your doctor.


The more common side effects of Tamiflu include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These side effects may be lessened if the drug is taken with food.


Less common side effects include abdominal pain, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. Less common side effects that mostly occur in children include bloody nose; dry, itching, or burning eyes; eating disorder; excessive eye tearing; and redness, pain, or swelling of the eyelid.


Rare side effects include pale skin, trouble breathing, or unusual bleeding or bruising.


Are there any interactions with other drugs?


Tamiflu is known to have moderate interactions with the flu vaccine, methotrexate, pemetrexed, and entecavir. 


It is also known to have disease interactions affecting those with hepatic impairment and renal impairment.

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