The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics
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Antiviral Drugs for Influenza for 2020-2021
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 Select a term to see related articles  Amantadine   Antiviral drugs   baloxavir   Coronavirus   FluMist   influenza   Influenza vaccine   Neuraminidase inhibitors   Oseltamivir   Peramivir   Rapivab   Relenza   Rimantadine   Tamiflu   Xofluza   Zanamivir 
Read our blog post on this topic:  Antivirals for Influenza
Summary: Antiviral Drugs for Influenza for 2020-2021
  • Antiviral treatment should be started as soon as possible; it is most effective when started within 48 hours after illness onset.
  • Antiviral treatment can be considered for otherwise healthy symptomatic outpatients with suspected or confirmed influenza who are not at increased risk for influenza complications if it can be started within 48 hours after illness onset.
  • Antiviral treatment of suspected or confirmed influenza is recommended for hospitalized patients and for outpatients who are at increased risk for influenza complications or have severe, complicated, or progressive illness.
  • Oral oseltamivir, IV peramivir, inhaled zanamivir, or oral baloxavir can be used for treatment of nonpregnant outpatients with acute uncomplicated influenza.
  • Oseltamivir is preferred for treatment of influenza in pregnant women, hospitalized patients, and outpatients with severe, complicated, or progressive illness.

Influenza is generally a self-limited illness, but complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, and death can occur, especially in patients at increased risk for influenza complications (see Table 1). Antiviral drugs recommended for treatment and chemoprophylaxis of influenza this season are listed in Table 2. Updated information on influenza activity and antiviral resistance is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu.

INDICATIONS FOR TREATMENT — Antiviral treatment can be considered for otherwise healthy symptomatic outpatients with suspected or confirmed influenza who are not at increased risk for influenza complications if it can be started within 48 hours after illness onset.

Antiviral treatment is recommended as soon as possible, without waiting for test results, for any patient with suspected or confirmed influenza who is hospitalized, has severe, complicated, or progressive illness, or is at increased risk for influenza complications (see Table 1).1-3 False negative results can occur with some influenza tests; patients in the above groups should receive antiviral treatment despite a negative test result, especially when influenza viruses are known to be circulating in the community.4

COVID-19 — While influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2 are co-circulating, hospitalized patients with respiratory illness, outpatients with severe, complicated, or progressive respiratory illness, and outpatients at increased risk for influenza complications who present with symptoms of acute respiratory illness (with or without fever) should receive empiric antiviral treatment for influenza as soon as possible, without waiting for results of influenza and/or SARS-CoV-2 testing. None of the drugs that are FDA-approved for treatment of influenza have clinically relevant antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2.5

TREATMENT — Two classes of drugs are recommended for treatment of influenza this season: the neuraminidase inhibitors (oral oseltamivir, IV peramivir, and inhaled zanamivir) and the oral polymerase acidic endonuclease inhibitor baloxavir. Both drug classes have activity against influenza A and B viruses.

Nonpregnant outpatients with acute uncomplicated influenza can be treated with a neuraminidase inhibitor or baloxavir.

Oseltamivir is preferred for treatment of influenza in pregnant women, hospitalized patients, and outpatients with severe, complicated, or progressive illness.1

Effectiveness – Use of a neuraminidase inhibitor or baloxavir for treatment of acute uncomplicated influenza in adults shortens the duration of symptoms by about one day.6-9 A meta-analysis of randomized trials in children with influenza found that starting oseltamivir within 48 hours after illness onset reduced illness duration by about 18 hours (by 30 hours when trials that enrolled children with asthma were excluded) and reduced the risk of otitis media.10

Although most controlled trials of antiviral drugs have not been powered to assess their efficacy in preventing serious influenza complications, experts have generally interpreted the combined results of controlled trials, observational studies, and meta-analyses as showing that early antiviral treatment of influenza in high-risk patients can reduce the risk of complications.7,11-13

Oseltamivir vs Baloxavir – In 173 children 1-11 years old, the median time to alleviation of symptoms was similar with a single dose of baloxavir and 5 days' treatment with oseltamivir (138 vs 150 hours).14 Oseltamivir is FDA-approved for treatment of influenza in patients ≥2 weeks old; baloxavir is under review by the FDA for treatment of influenza in children <12 years old.

In a randomized, double-blind trial in 2184 adolescents and adults with influenza who were at high risk of developing complications, the median time to improvement of symptoms was similar with a single dose of baloxavir and 5 days' treatment with oseltamivir (started within 48 hours after illness onset) in patients infected with influenza A(H3N2) and was significantly shorter with baloxavir than with oseltamivir in those infected with influenza B (median difference 27.1 hours). Use of either drug was associated with reduced rates of influenza-related complications and fewer antibiotic prescriptions compared to placebo.6

Timing – Neuraminidase inhibitors are most effective when started within 48 hours after illness onset, but the results of some observational studies in hospitalized and critically ill patients suggest that treatment started as late as 4-5 days after illness onset can shorten the length of hospitalization and reduce the risk of complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, and death.15-18 No data are available on the efficacy of baloxavir when it is started >48 hours after illness onset.

Adults (outpatient or hospitalized) with community-acquired pneumonia who test positive for influenza should receive antiviral treatment regardless of the duration of illness.19

CHEMOPROPHYLAXIS — Post-exposure prophylaxis should be considered for persons at increased risk of influenza complications who have not received an influenza vaccine this season, received one within the previous 2 weeks, or might not respond to vaccination, such as those who are immunosuppressed, or when the match between the vaccine and circulating strains is poor. It is not recommended for healthy persons exposed to influenza or when >48 hours have elapsed since exposure. Antiviral chemoprophylaxis is recommended to help control institutional influenza outbreaks.1

Effectiveness – Neuraminidase inhibitors have generally been about 70-90% effective in preventing influenza caused by susceptible strains of influenza A or B viruses.1 Oseltamivir and zanamivir are FDA-approved for post-exposure prophylaxis and baloxavir is currently under review by the FDA for such use. In a randomized, double-blind trial in 752 household contacts of patients with influenza, a single dose of baloxavir was effective in preventing clinical influenza.20

Timing – When indicated, chemoprophylaxis with oseltamivir or zanamivir should be started no later than 48 hours after exposure and be continued for 7 days after the last known exposure. For institutional outbreaks, the CDC recommends that chemoprophylaxis be given for at least 2 weeks and continued for up to 1 week after the end of the outbreak.

PREGNANCY AND LACTATION — Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe complications of influenza. Oseltamivir and zanamivir appear to be safe for use during pregnancy.21,22 Prompt treatment with oseltamivir is recommended for women with suspected or confirmed influenza who are pregnant or ≤2 weeks postpartum.23-25 Oseltamivir is also preferred for treatment of women who are breastfeeding. No data are available on use of baloxavir in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Antiviral chemoprophylaxis can be considered for pregnant women who have had close contact with someone likely to have influenza. Zanamivir may be preferred because of its limited systemic absorption, but oseltamivir is a reasonable alternative, especially in women at increased risk for respiratory problems.

For a more detailed table, click here.

RESISTANCE — Nearly all (>99%) of the recently circulating influenza virus strains tested by the World Health Organization (WHO) have been susceptible to neuraminidase inhibitors.26 Reduced susceptibility of some influenza virus strains, particularly influenza A(H1N1), to oseltamivir or peramivir can emerge during or after treatment, especially in immunocompromised patients with prolonged viral shedding and in young children.27-32 Resistant isolates have usually remained susceptible to zanamivir, but reduced susceptibility to zanamivir has been reported.33 In immunocompromised patients, a double dose of oseltamivir reduced the incidence of oseltamivir resistance compared to standard dosing, but it did not improve efficacy and can cause more adverse effects.34

Baloxavir is active against neuraminidase inhibitor-resistant strains of influenza A and B viruses, including A(H1N1), A(H5N1), A(H3N2), and A(H7N9). Amino acid substitutions associated with reduced susceptibility to baloxavir have occurred following treatment with a single dose.9,35 Reduced susceptibility to baloxavir appears to be more frequent in persons infected with influenza A(H3N2) and A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses, particularly children and immunocompromised patients.36,37 Baloxavir monotherapy is not recommended for severely immunosuppressed patients because of concerns that prolonged replication of the influenza virus in these patients could lead to emergence of resistance. Oseltamivir and peramivir may be active against influenza virus strains with reduced susceptibility to baloxavir.38

The adamantanes amantadine and rimantadine are active against influenza A viruses, but not influenza B viruses. As in recent past seasons, resistance to these drugs is high (>99%) among circulating influenza A(H3N2) and A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses; neither amantadine nor rimantadine is recommended for antiviral treatment or chemoprophylaxis of currently circulating influenza A viruses.

ADVERSE EFFECTS — Nausea, vomiting, and headache are the most common adverse effects of oseltamivir; taking the drug with food may minimize GI adverse effects. Diarrhea, nausea, sinusitis, fever, and arthralgia have been reported with zanamivir. Inhalation of zanamivir can cause bronchospasm; the drug should not be used in patients with underlying airway disease. Diarrhea and neutropenia have occurred with peramivir.39 Neuropsychiatric events, including self-injury and delirium, have been reported in patients taking neuraminidase inhibitors, but a causal relationship has not been established, and neuropsychiatric dysfunction can be a complication of influenza illness.40

Baloxavir was well tolerated in clinical trials. It appears to cause less nausea and vomiting than oseltamivir.41 Neuropsychiatric events have also been reported with use of baloxavir; a causal relationship has not been established.

Hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylaxis, have been reported with all of these drugs.

DRUG INTERACTIONS — Use of oseltamivir or zanamivir within 48 hours before, peramivir within 5 days before, or baloxavir within 17 days before or <2 weeks after administration of the intranasal live-attenuated influenza vaccine (FluMist Quadrivalent) could inhibit replication of the vaccine virus, reducing the vaccine's efficacy, and is not recommended.42 Revaccination with an inactivated or a recombinant influenza vaccine is recommended in persons who receive any one of these antiviral drugs within 2 weeks after receiving the intranasal influenza vaccine.43

Coadministration of antacids, laxatives, multivitamins, or other products containing polyvalent cations such as calcium, aluminum, iron, magnesium, selenium, or zinc can reduce serum concentrations of baloxavir and should be avoided.

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