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Health & Fit: Tamiflu Does Come With Potential Side Effects—But Doctors Say You Should Still Take It For The Flu

This might be your most important flu shot ever

  This might be your most important flu shot ever We don’t need people with the (largely preventable) flu flooding our hospitals in a pandemic.In the absence of a coherent federal response, the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country, with several states still battling active outbreaks. Experts estimate it could continue to hospitalize thousands and kill hundreds of people a day into September — likely with more spikes in the coming months.

Hey, you: It's time to start thinking about getting your flu shot. But if you do end up catching the flu, your doctor will likely prescribe Tamiflu, a medication that always comes with some controversy and buzz around it due to its potential side effects. The question that remains, can Tamiflu end up making you feel worse?

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is a go-to flu treatment, but in some cases, can cause flu-like and psychiatric symptoms. An MD shares the side effects to watch out for. © BSIP - Getty Images Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is a go-to flu treatment, but in some cases, can cause flu-like and psychiatric symptoms. An MD shares the side effects to watch out for.

The drug is meant to zap flu symptoms at the source, but it’s been called into question at times because of reports of potentially harmful and scary side effects. “Tamiflu may be considered controversial given some rare reports of psychiatric disturbances, especially in the pediatric population,” explains Sunitha Posina, MD, a board-certified internist based in New York.

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But Tamiflu isn’t an experimental drug by any means: It was FDA-approved in 1999 to treat the flu, and studies on the efficacy and side effects of Tamiflu (also known by its chemical name, oseltamivir phosphate) have shown it can improve flu symptoms (and even shorten the duration of a cold).

How? Tamiflu does this by attacking the flu virus and stopping it from completely infecting the respiratory tract. That’s why people tend to start feeling better as soon as they start taking it, especially if they start on Tamiflu within the first two days of feeling flu symptoms. Tamiflu can’t necessarily prevent you from ending up in the hospital with the flu, Dr. Posina notes, but it might potentially decrease complications from and the severity of the flu.

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These are the potential Tamiflu side effects you should be aware of before flu season arrives.

What are the most common side effects of Tamiflu?

  • Nausea and vomiting. Though only about 10 percent of people taking Tamiflu experience GI symptoms (like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains) according to Dr. Posina, they are probably the most common side effects of Tamiflu. But you might not be able to distinguish between your flu symptoms and the Tamiflu symptoms. The FDA suggests taking the medication with food whenever you can, and to notify your doctor if you notice your flu symptoms getting worse within a couple of days of taking Tamiflu.
  • Headaches. It’s also more common to experience headaches and even dizziness when taking Tamiflu, but again, you might already have a nasty headache from the flu. Do your best to monitor your symptoms before and during taking Tamiflu to make sure you’re not feeling worse from its potential side effects.
  • Allergic reactions. More rare symptoms (really: less than 1 percent of people are likely to experience them) include allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis and other dermatologic allergic reactions. If you start taking Tamiflu and develop a skin rash or any other allergic symptoms, the FDA advises stopping Tamiflu immediately and giving your doctor a call.

What about more serious side effects?

You may have heard scary stories about psychiatric issues happening as a result of taking Tamiflu. There have been a couple of rare cases in the U.S., including a 6-year-old girl in Texas who suffered from hallucinations.

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Dr. Posina explains that these possible side effects—like delirium, hallucinations, heightened anxiety, confusion, and even suicidal ideation—occur in less than 1 percent of people who take Tamiflu. And, they’re more common in younger children than teenagers or adults. More cases of these adverse effects have been reported in other countries besides the U.S., like Japan and the U.K., according to research. “Tamiflu is more commonly prescribed in Japan than the U.S., and that's where these psychiatric disturbances such as delirium or self-harm in children, while rare, have mostly been reported,” says Dr. Posina.

But more recent research hasn’t been able to prove that Tamiflu definitely causes dangerous side effects. Though it's a scary situation for any parents who have observed these symptoms in their children, it's probably less common than headlines would suggest.

Is it still worth taking Tamiflu, despite the side effects?

Yes. Though it gets a bit of a bad rap at times, Tamiflu is dependable for reducing the severity of the annual flu, and also may reduce your risk of spreading the virus to other people, which is key. “Despite some associated nausea and vomiting, this frequently does not negate the use of Tamiflu in individuals diagnosed with the flu,” says Dr. Posina.

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Of course, like any prescription drug, you should keep close tabs on any additional symptoms you develop while taking it, and keep in touch with your doctor about those side effects, she adds. For the most part, though, it’s totally safe.

Tamiflu will be most effective if you start taking it right when you take it as soon as you start feeling sick, particularly within 48 hours—that way, it can attack the virus right away. You can take Tamiflu in pill or liquid form, but exactly how much and how often you take it depends based on you and your symptoms (your doctor will evaluate that).

The bottom line: Don’t hesitate to pick up your Tamiflu prescription if you get sick. If you start to feel crummy due to the flu, it'll likely be your saving grace this season.

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It's More Important Than Ever To Let Your Doc Know If You Think You Have The Flu .
They'll need to help you figure out if it's really influenza or COVID-19.One of the main questions you might have about the flu: How long am I going to be sick if I do catch it?

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