Tamiflu can decrease the severity of flu symptoms and shorten the illness by about 24 hours. Learn about who should take the antiviral medication, the potential side effects, and whether Tamiflu is safe for kids. 

By Nicole Harris
October 15, 2020
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Influenza infects anywhere from 9 million to 45 million people each year, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it brings along a surprising array of symptoms—including fever, cough, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, and runny nose. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against the flu, but if illness strikes your family, your doctor might suggest taking Tamiflu to lessen the severity of symptoms. 

“Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is an antiviral medication that decreases the multiplication of the flu virus,” as long as it’s taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, says Daisy Dodd, a pediatric infectious disease doctor for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. She explains that flu viruses must multiply in human cells to survive. Tamiflu works by blocking this viral replication, decreasing the length of the illness by about 24 hours. 

Early treatment with Tamiflu can lead to milder illness, which lessens the number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with the flu. But it’s important to note that Tamiflu doesn’t actually cure influenza. “Tamiflu is different from antibiotics,” explains Rhonda Patt, M.D., a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Charlotte Pediatric Clinic - SouthPark. “Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, pneumonia, or urinary tract infections. Tamiflu, on the other hand, may help reduce the duration or severity of the flu but does not cure the flu.” 

Keep reading to learn more about where to get this antiviral medication, who should take it, and the side effects of Tamiflu in kids.

Credit: Getty Images

Who Should Take Tamiflu?

Tamiflu is recommended for patients with severe cases of influenza, as well as patients who are considered high risk for developing complications of the flu, says Dr. Patt. She gives some examples of people who might benefit from Tamiflu:

  • Children under 2 years old, who have a higher risk of potentially life-threatening complications like pneumonia and dehydration
  • Adults over 65 years old
  • Those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia
  • Pregnant or mother's who have recently given birth
  • Anyone taking medications that may suppress the immune system

Dr. Dodd adds that some parents also request Tamiflu if the family benefits from a speedier recovery—for example, if Mom or Dad can’t work when their child is sick

Tamiflu Side Effects for Kids

Although Tamiflu can shorten the duration of influenza, it’s not without side effects. The most common are gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. They usually occur during the first two days of treatment. 

More severe Tamiflu side effects—such as confusion, hallucinations, or unusual behavior—might occur on rare occasions, and children should be monitored for them. “It’s unclear at this time whether these behavioral changes are true side effects of Tamiflu, but they have been observed in children and teens who have taken Tamiflu,” says Dr. Patt.

So with these side effects, is Tamiflu safe for kids? As with any medication, parents and doctors must weigh the risks versus the benefits. “If a child is having a mild case of the flu, the risk of stomach upset may outweigh the benefits of the medication—meaning that we allow influenza to just run its course without antiviral medication,” says Dr. Patt.  “However, if a child has a chronic medical condition or is having severe flu symptoms, Tamiflu is more strongly recommended as a treatment option.” 

How to Get Tamiflu for Kids

To work effectively, Tamiflu must be taken within 48 hours from the onset of illness, says Dr. Dodd. Influenza can be determined with a rapid test or evaluation from your doctor, who might decide to prescribe Tamiflu depending on your child’s risk factors. Pediatricians can also treat “suspected influenza” with Tamiflu if it would benefit the patient, says the CDC.  For example, they might give Tamiflu to a high-risk child who was exposed to the virus through a friend or sibling.

Tamiflu isn't an over-the-counter medication—you can only get it through a prescription. It’s available in either liquid or pill form, and it’s generally prescribed for five days at a time. Your doctor will inform you about the correct Tamiflu dosage for kids, because it depends on factors like body weight and age.

If your child takes Tamiflu, you should also encourage other flu-fighting remedies, such as rest, hydration, and possibly fever-reducing medications. “If a patient is prescribed Tamiflu, it is okay to still take antipyretics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for fever or discomfort,” adds Dr. Patt.

How Much Does Tamiflu Cost?

The cost of Tamiflu depends on your health insurance and location. Without insurance, Tamiflu costs more than $100 for a five-day supply; it can sometimes retail for closer to $200. Parents can also ask about generic versions of Tamiflu for kids that might cost less.

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