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Intense flu season increasing demand for antiviral medications

MIAMI – Flu activity is high and continues to increase across the country.

According to the CDC, 47 states or jurisdictions are reporting very high or high flu activity.

The early intense flu season has increased demand for antiviral medications.

"If you're somebody who's older, if you have underlying medical conditions, you really should consider getting a prescription for an antiviral drug if you get the flu," says Dr. Celine Gounder, CBS News Medical Contributor. "These drugs have been shown to reduce the duration of illness, but really importantly, to reduce your likelihood of ending up in the hospital or even dying."

Tamiflu is one of the most commonly prescribed antivirals. The pill or liquid is taken for five days. The newest antiviral, Xofluza, is a single dose.

Dr. Gounder says start the course as soon as possible for the biggest benefits, usually within about two days of getting sick. 

"If you stop too soon, you can have a rebound of the virus. You can have a rebound of symptoms," she says. "And so it's really important to complete that course. If you don't complete the course, you are also at more risk for the virus developing resistance."

Side effects can vary.  Nausea and vomiting are the most common with Tamiflu. Diarrhea is most common with Xofluza.

"You can get side effects with really any medication," Dr. Gounder says. "And sometimes those can be allergic reactions or rash. Sometimes that can be GI upset. But what's really important to understand is these side effects are rare, they're mild."

And with COVID-19 cases on the rise, antiviral medications like Paxlovid can help people at high risk of developing severe illness.

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