Fact Checked

How Much Does Tamiflu Cost?

Flu season comes every year and usually affects people the most between October and April. The influenza virus changes slightly each year, which requires new vaccines, and the number of people affected varies depending on the year. More than 35 million people are estimated to have contracted the flu during the 2018-2019 flu season according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), which estimates that 34,157 people died from the disease during the same time frame. Nearly 500,000 people had symptoms so severe that they required hospitalization. With everyone desperate to reduce the time that they spend sick and keep symptom severity to a minimum, drugs like Tamiflu that promise to speed up recovery time and diminish symptoms are highly popular, but they come at a cost. How much does Tamiflu cost and what can it do to improve your symptoms if you get sick?

What is Tamiflu?

Tamiflu, which is sold under the generic name oseltamivir phosphate, is an antiviral drug that was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in 1999. Generic versions of the medication were approved by the FDA beginning in 2016. Tamiflu belongs to a class of drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors, which specifically block the actions of certain strains of the influenza virus in the body. 

What is Tamiflu used to treat?

Tamiflu is used to treat symptoms resulting from infection with the influenza virus, also known as the flu. Although the specific strain of the virus changes every year, the symptoms of the illness are always the same. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can cause hospitalization and even death. Symptoms commonly associated with the flu include:

  • Fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Chills and sweats

  • Dry, persistent cough

  • Nasal congestion

  • Aching muscles

  • Headache

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Sore throat

Most people who get sick with the flu do not need to see a doctor for medical advice or be hospitalized, but sometimes, complications can occur, particularly among those in high-risk groups. The following groups are considered at higher risk of catching the influenza virus and experiencing complications:

  • Children less than one year old and adults over the age of 65

  • People living in high-density arrangements, such as nursing homes or military barracks

  • People with weakened immune systems

  • People with chronic illnesses

  • People under the age of 19 who take aspirin regularly as part of a therapy plan

  • Pregnant women or women who are up to two weeks postpartum

  • People who have a body mass index of 40 or more and are considered obese

When complications arise, they are serious and can require hospitalization. Complications of the flu include:

  • Pneumonia

  • Asthma flare-ups

  • Ear infections

  • Bronchitis

  • Heart problems 

Of the complications, pneumonia is the most serious and the most likely to be fatal. The manufacturers of Tamiflu state that the prescription drugs help to reduce the number of patients who experience serious complications from the flu; patients taking Tamiflu who had a positive flu test were 44 percent less likely to experience pneumonia and 63 percent less likely to be hospitalized as a result of the flu. 

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How does Tamiflu work?

This class of medications works by blocking the function of the neuraminidase protein, which is viral in nature. When the protein is blocked, the infected host cell is unable to release more of the flu virus, thereby preventing additional cells from being infected. Because all of the subtypes of neuraminidase enzymes are blocked, the medication is effective at slowing the spread of influenza viruses A and B and shortens the average recovery time. Tamiflu does not cure the flu, it simply helps to diminish the severity of the symptoms, including cough, fever/chills, tiredness, stuffy nose, sore throat, and aches, and shortens the average recovery time by one to two days. If a person has already been exposed to the flu, Tamiflu can be used to prevent the flu from causing infection or growing to the point of noticeable symptoms if taken shortly after exposure. However, it should be noted that Tamiflu is not a substitute for the flu vaccine or flu shot, which people should receive each year in order to have the best chance of avoiding the flu. 

How much does Tamiflu cost?

Despite the medication’s potential to help reduce symptom severity of the flu, some patients are hesitant to take Tamiflu because of the cost associated with the drug. Like most medications that aren't over the counter, the brand name drug, Tamiflu, is more expensive than generic versions, sometimes costing up to $250 for patients without insurance who are paying the cash price for the drug. The generic version of the medication, oseltamivir, is cheaper, but still can cost up to $135 when paid for out of pocket. Unfortunately, these prices are out of reach for many people. Even with health insurance plans, copays can range from the lowest price of $10 to the highest retail price of $200 and everywhere in between. Patients who want to take Tamiflu but who are worried about the cost can find discounts on the medication by enrolling in a pharmacy discount card program like USA Rx. These programs are free, have no eligibility requirements, and provide discounts on all FDA-approved medications, including both generic and brand name versions of the drugs. With USA Rx, the generic version of Tamiflu can be purchased for less than 50 dollars, while the brand name version of the drug costs about 165 dollars.   

What are the side effects of Tamiflu?

Most side effects associated with Tamiflu are mild and do not require medical attention. Common side effects of Tamiflu include:

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Dizziness

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach pains

  • Headaches

The majority of the common side effects associated with Tamiflu can be avoided by taking the medication with food. However, more serious side effects can also occur, including:

  • Seizures

  • Delirium

  • Unusual behavior

  • Sudden confusion

  • Hallucinations

  • Self-injury

These side effects are rare but are more likely to occur in children taking Tamiflu or when drug interactions occur. If you or your child experience any of these side effects, you should stop use of the medication immediately and contact a healthcare professional or your local pharmacy. It’s also possible to experience an allergic reaction to Tamiflu, so medical attention should be sought if you experience any of the following signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Hives

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Skin rash

How do I take Tamiflu?

If you decide to take Tamiflu, you must do so within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms for the medication to be effective. Tamiflu is available in both a liquid and a capsule form, and patients can choose which they are most comfortable taking. Tamiflu should be taken with food in order to avoid stomach upset, but it is not required. Adults and children aged 13 and older will take 75 mg of Tamiflu twice per day for five consecutive days. Children over the age of two weeks old under the age of 13 will have their Tamiflu dose prescribed based on their weight and will usually take the medication in a liquid form. The prescribed dose is taken twice per day for five consecutive days. 

Patients who are taking Tamiflu to prevent getting sick after being exposed to the flu can take the medication for up to six weeks in order to prevent the onset of symptoms. To prevent the onset of flu symptoms, adults and teenagers aged 13 and older will take one dose of Tamiflu for ten days or as long as prescribed the medication by their doctor. Tamiflu can be used to prevent the onset of flu symptoms in children between the ages of one and 13 by taking one dose, prescribed based on the child’s weight, for ten days or as long as prescribed. Tamiflu should not be used to prevent the onset of flu symptoms in children under one year of age.

Can women who are pregnant or breastfeeding take Tamiflu?

Because pregnant women are considered at especially high risk of influenza complications due to their immunocompromised status, the CDC recommends treatment with Tamiflu or another antiviral medication within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Pregnant women should also take Tamiflu or another antiviral medication if they believe they have been exposed to the flu in order to prevent the onset of symptoms. Although some Tamiflu has been found to pass through breastmilk to nursing infants, the levels are low enough that adverse effects are unlikely. Tamiflu is the preferred antiviral treatment for nursing mothers with influenza.

References:

https://www.tamiflu.com/ 

https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-17765-5294/tamiflu-oral/oseltamivir-oral/details 

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/tamiflu-consumer-questions-and-answers 

https://www.drugs.com/tamiflu.html 

http://www.center4research.org/tamiflu-not-tamiflu/ 

https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20160805/generic-tamiflu-approved-fda 

https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/neuraminidase-inhibitors.html 

https://www.tamiflu.com/patient/taking-tamiflu.html 

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719 

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/avrec_ob.htm 

https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/influenza.html

Published July 31st, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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