Tamiflu for Kids: What You Need to Know

If you or your kids get the flu, your doctor might prescribe Tamiflu or another antiviral medication. But people seem to have questions about this—particularly Tamiflu for kids. Some may just be unfamiliar with it (especially if you never took it growing up), while others may be hesitant in the same way they’re vaccine hesitant (which is a growing and increasingly dangerous trend).

This hesitation around Tamiflu is in the news recently for a heartbreaking reason. Last week, NBC News reported that a Colorado woman’s 4-year-old son died from the flu. A few days prior, the mom posted in a Facebook group titled “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” that doctors prescribed her son Tamiflu but she didn’t pick it up. Other members in the group reportedly urged her to try things like breastmilk, thyme, and elderberry, which are not scientifically proven to treat the flu.

Although Tamiflu can be effective in treating and even preventing the flu in people who have been exposed, it’s clear that some parents have concerns about it. It’s completely understandable for parents to be worried about the safety of any drug they’re considering giving their children, but it’s also important to clear up misinformation that might stop people from using this medication when it could be helpful. Here, SELF dug through available data and talked to a doctor who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases to get answers to your most likely questions about Tamiflu for kids.

What is Tamiflu?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Tamiflu, also available as generic oseltamivir phosphate, is an oral antiviral drug approved for treating the flu in people 2 weeks or older. Available as a pill or liquid taken over the course of five days, it works by attacking the flu virus in your body in order to keep it from multiplying, in turn lessening symptoms, aiding in faster recovery, and reducing the likelihood of potentially life-threatening complications, Flor Munoz, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), tells SELF.

Tamiflu is actually also approved as a preventive treatment for adults and children aged one year or older who have been exposed to influenza—say, through living with someone with the flu—but aren’t sick yet. Key fact here: Tamiflu is not a replacement for the flu vaccine, the FDA notes, adding that the vaccine is still our best defense against influenza. Everyone who is 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine every year except in the rare case that there is a serious medical reason not to (like a life-threatening allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. (There’s still time to get the vaccine for protection this flu season, also.)

Though multiple antiviral drugs are approved for treating the flu in children, Tamiflu is generally the treatment of choice, according to the AAP’s most recent recommendations for prevention and control of influenza in children. It’s easier to give a kid an oral medication instead of the inhaled and intravenous antiviral options. Baloxavir is another oral antiviral available for treating the flu, but it’s only approved for patients who are 12 years or older.

In both kids and adults, Tamiflu works best when started within 48 hours of flu symptoms appearing, the CDC explains. But evidence shows that it can still be useful after that, especially in kids who are hospitalized with the flu or at high risk of developing complications (which applies to kids under 5 years old, especially those under 2, as well as children who have underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart or lung disease), the CDC says. It’s a similar situation with adults: People who have severe cases of the flu, are hospitalized, are elderly, or have chronic underlying illness that put them at risk for complications may still benefit from starting Tamiflu later. That’s why, for kids and adults in these more vulnerable categories, the AAP, CDC, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) all recommend considering starting Tamiflu even if it’s been over 48 hours since symptoms began.

What are the side effects of Tamiflu?

According to the FDA, the most common side effects of Tamiflu are nausea and vomiting, though these tend not to be severe, and taking Tamiflu with food might lower the odds of experiencing these issues. Other possible side effects include stomach pain, nosebleeds, headache, and fatigue. And, like with any medication, there’s always the slight possibility of having an allergic reaction, which may manifest with symptoms like a skin rash, hives, blisters, swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, or throat, trouble breathing, or itching.

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