Who is Recommended to Take Tamiflu for Flu?
Flu Season Worsens, Leading to Shortages of Tamiflu
In 2018, the regular flu season saw a significant increase in hospitalizations compared to previous years. As a result, the CDC recommended flu shots for everyone. However, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
The surge in flu patients caused shortages of prescription antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu, which helps alleviate flu symptoms and prevent the illness from worsening. Despite assurances from the drug manufacturer and CDC about sufficient supply, reports of unusual side effects associated with Tamiflu started to emerge.
Some individuals, particularly children, experienced seizures, self-injury, and severe hallucinations after taking Tamiflu. It remains unclear whether these symptoms were caused by the medication itself or by the flu virus. The drugmaker responsible for manufacturing Tamiflu acknowledged that hallucinations, delirium, and odd behavior can also be flu symptoms and stated that they were closely monitoring the situation.
The FDA stated that the prevalence of side effects was not clear, and it was uncertain whether the flu virus or Tamiflu was responsible for the unusual symptoms. The FDA also noted that severe side effects could occur even in individuals who did not take Tamiflu.
How Does Tamiflu Help With Flu?
Tamiflu is an antiviral medication classified as a neuraminidase inhibitor. When taken within the first two days of flu symptoms, Tamiflu can reduce symptoms by attacking and inhibiting the virus from multiplying. Typically, it shortens the duration of illness by one day.
Unlike antibiotics, which can eliminate bacterial infections like strep throat, antivirals like Tamiflu do not cure the flu in the same way. However, they are still beneficial. Tamiflu does not disrupt the “good bacteria” in the digestive system, making it less likely to cause side effects. Additionally, experts suggest that antiviral drugs have a lower risk of breeding drug-resistant “superbugs.”
Who Should Take Tamiflu?
Despite reports of unusual side effects, Tamiflu is considered safe for individuals with the flu. Those at high risk of severe flu complications can greatly benefit from antiviral medication. For pregnant women with influenza, the CDC recommends treatment with an antiviral due to the potential for more severe symptoms.
The CDC also advises administering Tamiflu to:
- People with weakened immune systems at risk of severe complications
- Children under two years of age
- People over 65 years of age
- Individuals with asthma, heart disease, or diabetes
- Morbidly obese individuals
- Nursing home residents
Typically, individuals not at high risk of flu complications do not require Tamiflu treatment. However, for those at high risk, the CDC recommends not waiting and taking Tamiflu as a precaution against potential severe viral infection.
The CDC also advises administering Tamiflu to nursing home residents if any flu cases are detected due to their vulnerability to the virus.
In cases where a healthy person has a family member with the flu, the CDC suggests that they can also take Tamiflu. However, a doctor may prescribe a lower dose to protect the healthy individual against the influenza virus.