Seasonal Flu Treatment

If you have a fever with a cough or sore throat, you can take steps to protect yourself and avoid spreading illness to others.

  • People with flu usually recover without medical treatment. Stay home from work or school until you have been free of fever for at least a day. But other illnesses can cause fever, so call your doctor if you are in doubt.
  • If you are at risk of complications (see list below), call your doctor to discuss treatment with antiviral medicine. You may not need to visit the doctor’s office or clinic; if appropriate, the doctor can call a pharmacy with your prescription.
  • If you have a severe or worsening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, go immediately to a hospital emergency room.
  • If you do not have severe illness, you do not need to go to a hospital.
  • Rest, drink plenty of liquids, and take the medications you would normally take to treat your symptoms (for example, acetaminophen or ibuprofen). People under 19 years old should not take aspirin or aspiring-containing products such as Pepto-Bismol™. Aspirin can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome in young people with flu.

What are medicines that can prevent or treat influenza?

A vaccine is available to prevent influenza. There are also several drugs that are used to prevent and treat flu, including oseltamivir (Tamiflu™), zanamivir (Relenza™), and recently approved peramivir (Rapivab™). The first is taken orally, the second is inhaled, and the third is used in hospitalized patients and given intravenously (through a vein). These medications, which require a doctor’s prescription, are known as antivirals. They can prevent severe illness by helping your body combat influenza viruses.

Who should take these medicines?

Most people recover completely from influenza without medication, but certain people are at higher risk of severe illness or complications. If you or a family member meet one of the descriptions on the list below, and you develop flu-like illness (fever accompanied by cough or sore throat) or have had recent close contact with someone with flu-like symptoms, please call your doctor or clinic to discuss treatment with antiviral medicine.

Those at higher risk for flu complications include :

  • People over 65 or under two (2) years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Women who have given birth, or had a miscarriage or abortion in the past two (2) weeks
  • People with chronic lung problems, such as asthma or emphysema
  • People with chronic heart, kidney, liver or blood disorders
  • People with neurological disorders that can cause breathing problems
  • People with diabetes
  • People whose immune systems are weakened due to illness or medication
  • People under 19 years who are on long-term aspirin therapy
  • People who are morbidly obese (i.e., body-mass index is equal to or greater than 40)

If you belong to one of these higher-risk groups, and you’re in close contact with someone who has influenza, a health-care provider may recommend that you take antiviral medicine as a precaution.

Should I be tested for influenza before being treated for it?

No, you don’t need a flu test to receive treatment for flu-like illness. Testing to confirm influenza infection should be reserved for people who are critically ill.

What are flu antivirals?

Flu antivirals are medicines that can help people who are already sick with influenza get better faster and avoid dangerous complications. Download our Flu Antivirals Printable Handout (PDF).
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How can I get a prescription?

The Health Department recommends that doctors prescribe treatment for anyone with flu-like illness who belongs to any of the higher-risk groups listed above. If you or a family member are at higher risk and you develop flu-like illness, take your temperature. If the reading is 100 degrees or higher, call your health care provider and explain that you have flu-like illness and may be at risk of complications. You do not need to go to a hospital unless your symptoms are severe. The provider may want to see you, or may be able to prescribe treatment by calling your pharmacy.

Do these medicines come in liquid form?

Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) is available as a liquid. It is used for children or those unable to shallow pills. If you need fill a prescription for the liquid form, call your pharmacist first to make sure it is available. Large pharmacies are reporting good supplies. If your pharmacy doesn’t have the liquid form in stock, the pharmacist may be able to create it for you from capsules – a process called compounding. Not all pharmacies are capable of compounding.

I need antiviral medication but don’t have a regular doctor. How can I get a prescription?

Every New Yorker should have a regular doctor or other health provider. If you don't have a regular provider, you can get one through your health plan. And if you don’t have a health plan, you may qualify for free or low-cost health insurance. To find out, call 311 and ask about HealthStat.

New York City’s public hospitals and community clinics will care for anyone in need, and will charge according to the person’s ability to pay. Facilities operated by New York City Health + Hospitals set fees for services and medicine according to people’s ability to pay. Services are also available at low cost or no cost through federally funded health centers. To find federally funded health centers near you go here and enter your zip code.

These health centers can provide:

  • Checkups when you're well
  • Treatment when you're sick
  • Complete care when you're pregnant
  • Immunizations and checkups for your children
  • Dental care for your family
  • Mental health and substance abuse care if you need it
  • Prescription drugs

Before visiting a health center, you can call to schedule an appointment or find out if there is a clinic even closer to you.

What if I can’t afford medications for influenza?

Patients receiving services through the New York City Health + Hospitals may qualify for free or discounted medications. Some federally funded health clinics also provide prescription drugs to their patients, but antiviral medicine is not currently available through these programs.

When should I go to the hospital?

If you have a severe or worsening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, go immediately to a hospital emergency room or call 911. If you have a medical condition such as heart disease, immune deficiency, diabetes, or severe asthma, and your symptoms are getting worse, you should contact or visit a doctor or a hospital right away. If you aren’t sure where to get care, call 311 for information. Care is always available if you need it, and no one will check your immigration status. Here are some signs that you may need medical treatment:


  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting that won’t stop


  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Fever with a rash
  • Refusing to drink fluids
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that won’t stop
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being too irritable to be held
  • Having flu symptoms return with fever and worse cough after starting to get better

Additional Resources