What are antivirals and what do they do?

Antivirals can be pills, liquid, powder or an intravenous solution. Find out more about how antivirals can help you feel better faster.

Some people with COVID-19 are being treated with antivirals. What are antivirals? Where can you get antivirals?

Antivirals are used to manage the symptoms caused by coronavirus infection.

What are antivirals?

Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight viruses in your body. They can be given in the form of a pill, liquid, powder or an intravenous solution. Antivirals can reduce symptoms of infection and shorten the length of an illness.

Antiviral drugs are not sold over the counter. They are only available with a prescription from a health care provider.

Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which are a treatment for bacterial infections. Antivirals are also different from monoclonal antibodies, which are a different path to treating COVID-19.

In January 2022 two oral antivirals — Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir)

and Lagevrio (molnupiravir) — were authorized for outpatients with mild to moderate COVID-19 under emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Treatment with these oral antivirals must begin within five days of symptom onset to ensure the best outcomes.

Care everywhere you are

Health care providers can help you manage the symptoms of COVID-19. Schedule an online or in-person appointment at:

Who should talk to a health care provider about antivirals?

You may be eligible for oral antiviral treatment if you:

  • Are at high risk of getting more serious symptoms
  • Have tested positive for COVID-19
  • Are not in the hospital but have mild to moderate symptoms for five days or less

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created an extensive list of the conditions that might put you at higher risk of developing serious and/or life-threatening COVID symptoms, including age, chronic conditions and health status.

How can I get antivirals?

Antiviral medications require a prescription. A health care professional can determine whether you are eligible for and likely to benefit from this treatment. Your health care provider will have to check your previous kidney function to make sure it is safe to take the medication as well as any drug interactions to determine which version of the medication is safe for you.

For now, antiviral medicines are not authorized for use in children. To take Lagevrio, you must be at least 18 years of age. To take Paxlovid, you must be at least 12 years of age and weigh at least 88 pounds.

Are there side effects of antivirals?

These medications are safe and effective when used as directed. After taking an antiviral, you might have mild side effects including altered or impaired sense of taste, diarrhea, increased blood pressure or muscle aches.

Some people who recover from COVID-19 get symptoms again about two to eight days later. Or they get a “positive” test result that says they have COVID after they already got a “negative” result that didn’t find signs of the illness.

Doctors call this a “COVID rebound,” and it’s possible to have it whether you got the COVID vaccine or not. It’s also possible to have a rebound after you finish taking a five-day course of Paxlovid.

At the end of the day, a health care provider will be the one to prescribe antiviral drugs. These drugs are not available in urgent and immediate care facilities, and are not sold over the counter at drugstores.

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