How flu antivirals work

Antivirals are medications used to prevent and treat infections caused by viruses. Flu antivirals work against the flu, which is caused by influenza A and influenza B viruses. Antivirals, if taken as soon as possible from the onset of flu symptoms, can reduce the risk of flu complications, reduce symptoms, and shorten the length of the flu.

Most people with the flu recover on their own. People with mild cases of the flu should stay home, get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, treat symptoms, and avoid contact with others. However, if you are severely ill or at risk for flu complications, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for you, which you should start taking as soon as possible.

Antivirals, as the name implies, work against viruses. But how exactly? A viral infection occurs when the virus infects your body's cells, uses the cell to reproduce itself, and then leaves the cell to infect more cells in the body, which increases the amount of virus in the body.

Antivirals work by reducing the ability of the virus to reproduce. Agents used to treat the flu belong to the class of medications called neuraminidase inhibitors. These medications work by:

  • interfering with the release of virus from infected cells
  • causing the virus to cluster rather than spread
  • perhaps helping the respiratory (lung and airway) secretions to make the virus inactive

When antivirals are effective, the amount of virus in the body lessens, and you may feel less sick because your body doesn't have to work as hard to fight the virus.

For more information about treating the flu and reducing symptoms, read  Flu home treatment and self care .

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