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What are the Most Common Antiviral Agents?

By Misty Wiser
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The most common antiviral agents are prescribed by physicians to combat viruses that try to take over the cells in the human body in order to replicate. Once the virus has entered the cell, it is able to make copies of itself and release the new copies into the body to invade other cells. The antiviral drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies are made to interrupt the replication process of the virus. Many of the antiviral drugs used today are intended to treat influenza types A and B, the herpes virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Acyclovir, or Valtrex®, is the most common antiviral agent used to treat herpes infections and cold sores that develop on the lips. The medication is available for oral dosage or in a cream to spread over the lesions. It does not cure the herpes infection, but shortens the healing time and the severity of the outbreak. It can be given to children under a doctor’s supervision.

Symmetrel, Tamiflu® and Flumadine® are effective in treating the influenza virus. Doctors recommend the vaccination to prevent the influenza infection. A regimen of these antiviral drugs can also help shorten the length of the illness once a patient is infected.

HIV and AIDS require a combination of antiviral drugs given several times daily to keep the virus from taking over the body. The most common antiviral agents used to treat these infections are prescribed in groups of three and four medications. The medications must be taken together because the antiviral drugs are each interrupting a different part of the viral replication process. It is important to take the medications at evenly spaced times throughout the day to ensure that a constant level of antiviral drugs are maintained throughout the body.

The most common antiviral agents prescribed for AIDS and HIV are Epivir, Kaletra®, Retrovir®, Norvir®, and Ziagen. Some medications that have been approved for the treatment of children with HIV or AIDS are Agenerase, Sustiva®, Crixavan, and Viracept. Antiviral agents used to treat children and adults with AIDS are prescribed in combination with two to three other antiviral drugs. The ability of the drugs to fight the disease depends on all the medications being taken together at regular intervals.

Antiviral medications may interact with other medications and dietary supplements, so it is important that the physician prescribing the antiviral agents be aware of all medications being taken. Side effects of the most common antiviral agents are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, trouble concentrating, sleep disturbances, and headaches. The side effects will generally lessen as the duration that the medication is being taken increases.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Mar 23, 2014

Although it's an amino acid and not a medication, lysine is a popular antiviral and immune system supporting agent. Many people who have immune system diseases supplement with lysine. Lysine products are also used by people with herpes type one or two. For example, there are lysine ointments that can be applied to cold sores to help cold sores heal quickly.

I take a lysine supplement when I feel a cold sore coming on and lysine prevents it from developing.

By burcinc — On Mar 23, 2014

@candyquilt-- Technically there are antiviral medications that could be used for most viral infections. However, for infections like the flu, most people do not require antiviral medications and antivirals will not benefit the individual much.

Antiviral medications are recommended for flu if the person is at risk of complications from the infection (such as the elderly) or if the person cares for other people who would suffer from complications if the flu passes to them. Normal, healthy adults and those who have gotten the flu shot that year do not need antivirals. The immune system will fight and remove the infection fairly quickly.

By candyquilt — On Mar 23, 2014

If there are anti-viral medications for flu, why does my doctor send me home and tell me to take pain relievers when necessary? I'm always told there there is nothing that can be taken for the flu.

By Handycell — On Mar 11, 2014

I get the flu every year like clockwork, and while I’m not supposed to get the flu shot (Guillain-Barré syndrome runs in my immediate family), I’m curious about some of the antivirals. The last time I used Tamiflu I broke out in a hideous facial rash that lasted for a week. I don’t want a repeat of that, so first off if this rash was caused by an allergy to Tamiflu, I’m wondering if I’m also allergic to Symmetrel or Flumadine. Also, since I get the flu every year, will the effectiveness of the medication go down if I take it too many times? Is once a year too much? I just hear a lot about how it’s bad to take antibiotics regularly, so I wasn’t sure if the same applied for antivirals.

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