Antivirals are medications that are prescribed to treat viral infections. There are several types available in many forms.
- Treat viral infections.
- Ineffective against bacterial or fungal infections.
- Available in various forms.
If you would like to discuss antivirals with one of our registered clinicians, they are available via our online video consultation service from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
What are antivirals?
Antivirals are drugs that are prescribed to treat viruses, as opposed to antibiotics, which treat bacterial infections. They include flu medications, such as Tamiflu, and treatments for bronchitis and tonsillitis.
Influenza, sometimes referred to as the flu, is a viral infection that causes symptoms including aches and pains, fever, coughing, a sore throat, fatigue, a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headaches, insomnia and diarrhoea. In most cases, the infection clears up having used self-care measures and taken rest, but occasionally antivirals are required if it persists. Keeping warm and staying hydrated are important in allowing the body to fight the flu.
How is the flu treated?
Over the counter medication can help relieve symptoms of flu, including paracetamol, to reduce your temperature and manage pain. People who may be susceptible to the flu or who would like protection from it can get a flu jab (vaccine), which helps reduce the likelihood of an infection occurring. It should be administered before the start of flu season, which lasts from December until March. You can help prevent the spread of flu when you have it by washing your hands regularly and putting any used tissues in the bin. The flu usually clears up within a week or two, and antivirals aren’t typically required.
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an infection in the airways of the lungs (bronchi), which results in irritation and inflammation. There are two forms of bronchitis, acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts for around three weeks and can present in people of any age. Chronic bronchitis is a recurring three-month long infection and tends to occur in people over the age of 40.
What symptoms does bronchitis cause?
Symptoms of bronchitis include fatigue, a sore throat, a blocked nose, headaches and aches and pains. Most cases of bronchitis resolve themselves and via self-care measures, but in some instances an antiviral or antibiotic may be required. Bronchitis can be triggered by bacteria or viruses, so understanding what is causing the infection is key to treatment. In the vast majority of cases, however, bronchial infections are viral. If the infection does not clear up after getting plenty of rest and through staying hydrated, antivirals may be required.
What is tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is a common infection in children, although it can present at any age. It can also be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, which determines what treatment is required. Symptoms of tonsillitis include problems swallowing, a sore throat, headaches, sweating, fatigue, earache, fever, losing your voice, bad breath and painful, swollen glands.
In most cases, these symptoms clear up in a matter of three to four days, and drinking cold drinks, resting, gargling with saltwater (not recommended for children) and paracetamol or ibuprofen can all help to manage them. Lozenges and throat sprays may also help to treat symptoms.
What should I do if tonsillitis persists?
Should the infection persist, you should see your doctor for further investigation. They may take a swab of your throat to see whether the infection is bacterial or viral, as well as a blood test in order to rule out glandular fever. Once it has been established that the infection has been caused by a virus, you may then be prescribed antiviral medication.
If you have any concerns about the conditions described above, you can speak with one of our GMC-registered clinicians using our online video consultation service, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, five days a week. They can also issue referral to specialists for treatment and fit notes, where appropriate.
What types of antivirals are available?
There are many antivirals available, each designed with specific viral infections in mind. They range from topical creams and ointments, such as aciclovir (Zovirax) for cold sores, to antiretroviral tablets to manage HIV infections.
Can antivirals cause side effects?
Like all medications, antivirals can trigger side effects. To fully understand the risks associated with your specific treatment, it’s important to read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medication. You should also discuss the possibility of side effects with your doctor before starting treatment.
The following information relates to oseltamivir, the active ingredient in Tamiflu. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical assistance: face and skin swelling, rashes, low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, yellowing of the skin and white of the eyes, change in stool colour, affected behaviour, epidermal necrolysis, fever, sore throat and fatigue, blisters, peeling, shedding of larger areas of skin and gastrointestinal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, upset stomach, headaches, pain, convulsions, delirium, loss of consciousness, confusion, abnormal behaviour, delusions, hallucinations, agitation, anxiety and nightmares.
Side effects of antivirals in adults and adolescents
Very common side effects (affecting more than 1 in 10 people): headache and feeling nauseous.
Common side effects (may affect up to 1 in 10 people): bronchitis, cold sores, coughing, dizziness, fever, pain, runny nose, insomnia, sore throat, stomach ache, tiredness, abdominal fullness, upper respiratory tract infections, upset stomach and vomiting.
Uncommon side effects (affecting up to 1 in 100 people): allergic reactions, altered consciousness, convulsions, heart rhythm abnormalities, liver function disorders and skin reactions.
Rare side effects (affecting up to 1 in 1,000 people): thrombocytopenia and visual disturbances.
Side effects of antivirals in children aged 1 to 12 years of age
Very common side effects (affecting more than 1 in 10 people): cough, nasal congestion and vomiting.
Common side effects (affecting up to 1 in 10 people): conjunctivitis, Ear inflammation, headaches, nausea, runny nose, stomach ache, abdominal fullness and an upset stomach.
Uncommon side effects (affecting up to 1 in 100 people): inflammation of the skin and tympanic membrane disorder.
In infants under the age of one, diarrhoea and nappy rash have also been reported.
Is it safe to take antivirals with other treatments?
You should inform your doctor of any treatments you are currently taking or have recently taken before starting treatment with antivirals.
The following information relates to oseltamivir, which may be unsuitable for you if you are taking any of these medications: Chlorpropamide (diabetes), methotrexate (rheumatoid arthritis), phenylbutazone (pain and inflammation) and probenecid (gout).
Warnings and precautions when using antivirals
Your doctor should be made fully aware of any conditions you are currently experiencing so that they can prescribe the safest and most effective treatment for you. In the case of oseltamivir, this is particularly important if you have any of the following: allergies to any medicine, kidneys problems, any severe medical condition, immune system issues, chronic heart disease and any respiratory disease.
Is it safe to use antivirals if you are pregnant?
You should inform your doctor if you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, plan on becoming pregnant during treatment or are breastfeeding. Some antivirals may present a risk to your baby’s health.
Is it safe to consume alcohol whilst taking antivirals?
It depends on the specific treatment you are using, and the condition that is being treated. If you plan on consuming alcohol during treatment, you should first consult your prescribing clinician.
Can antivirals affect my ability to drive?
Antivirals rarely cause side effects that impact on driving. You should however read the patient information leaflet that comes with your treatment, and speak to your doctor if you are unsure.
Can I buy antivirals over the counter?
Some antivirals are available to buy from your local pharmacy or supermarket, such as topical creams for cold sores, but others require a prescription.
How can I buy antivirals online?
Our GPhC-registered clinicians can discuss antiviral treatments with you via our online video consultation service, from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. They can also provide fit notes and referral to specialists for treatment, where suitable.