Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that is typically spread in the winter months. While yearly vaccination is a primary method of prevention, antiviral medications have also become a helpful tool in combating the flu for patients at risk of complications from the illness. Neuraminidase inhibitors are a class of antiviral drugs designed to hinder the spread of the influenza virus within the body. In this blog post, we will explore how these medications work, their benefits, and considerations for their use in managing and preventing the flu.
Read our blog about Determining Your Illness
Common Neuraminidase Inhibitor Medications:
There are three neuraminidase inhibitors available as prescription medications in the United States to combat influenza:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu): Available as a capsule or liquid suspension – Tamiflu Coupon
- Zanamivir (Relenza): Administered as an inhaled powder
- Peramivir (Rapivab): Administered in a hospital setting as a single intravenous (IV) dose
How Neuraminidase Inhibitors Work:
Neuraminidase is an enzyme that is essential for the influenza virus to replicate and spread in the body. Neuraminidase inhibitors work by binding to the neuraminidase enzyme, thereby preventing it from performing this role. This action reduces the virus’s ability to spread and continue to infect the person.
How Do These Medications Help Treat Influenza?
Reduced Severity of Symptoms: When taken early in the course of the illness, neuraminidase inhibitors can reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms, helping individuals recover more quickly.
Prevention: Neuraminidase inhibitors have been shown to reduce the risk of flu-related complications, especially in individuals at higher risk, such as the elderly, young children, and those with underlying health conditions.
Control Potential Outbreaks: These medications can be used to control outbreaks of influenza in long-term care facilities if given to individuals after they are exposed to the virus, even if they are not yet showing symptoms of having influenza themselves. By decreasing the amount of virus coming from a person, these medications help reduce the spread of the virus to others.
Target Multiple Flu Strains: Neuraminidase inhibitors are effective against multiple influenza strains, making them useful in various scenarios.
Considerations and Safe Usage:
Timing Matters: These medications are typically only meant to be used in patients who have shown symptoms of influenza for no more than two days. Starting treatment quickly after noticing symptoms is important for the effectiveness of the medications.
Prescription Required: Neuraminidase inhibitors are available by prescription only, and the decision to use them should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider.
Side Effects: Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness. Risk versus benefits of starting therapy should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Also see our blog about Treating Ear Infections
Influenza neuraminidase inhibitors are helpful antiviral medications used for the management and prevention of the flu virus. They can reduce the severity of flu symptoms, prevent complications, and limit the spread of the virus. This is especially for populations that are more vulnerable to having complications from influenza. To make the most of these antiviral medications, it’s important to use them in consultation with a healthcare provider and start treatment early once flu symptoms start.