Woman with flu symptoms wondering about taking Tamiflu without a positive flu test

Can you take Tamiflu without a positive flu test?

Written on January 27, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Despite a decrease in flu infections after the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans continue to get the flu each year [1,2]. Every year, about 8% of Americans get the flu [3]. The flu is a lung and airway disease caused by the influenza virus [4]. The flu can cause severe symptoms, hospitalization, and even death in some people, especially the elderly and people with weak immune systems [5].

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is an antiviral medication used to decrease flu symptoms and reduce your risk of hospitalization [6-8]. You will need to consult your healthcare provider to obtain Tamiflu since it is a prescription drug. Will your healthcare provider prescribe Tamiflu without a positive flu test? In this article, find out more about Tamiflu, flu tests, and whether you can take Tamiflu without a positive flu test.

What is Tamiflu?

Tamiflu is a neuraminidase inhibitor used to treat acute flu symptoms such as cough, fever, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, and a stuffy or runny nose [3,6,7]. Tamiflu works by blocking a protein on the surface of the influenza virus, reducing the virus' ability to spread in your body.

If you are a healthy adult, Tamiflu is most effective when taken within 48 hours of your first symptom [6,7]. Signs of the flu are often similar to other infections, so it's hard to tell if you have it. As a result, you may not see a healthcare provider within the first 48 hours of symptoms.

How do you get a prescription for Tamiflu?

A Tamiflu prescription requires a visit to your healthcare provider, who will determine if Tamiflu is appropriate for you. Patients hospitalized with a severe illness and at higher risk for influenza complications are more likely to receive Tamiflu [10].

You can get a Tamiflu prescription by visiting your local clinic or making a telehealth appointment. Telehealth appointments are ideal if you're worried about spreading the flu. You can get help from Everlywell's telehealth option for flu treatment online wherever you are, even while you're sick.

What types of flu tests are available?

When you start feeling flu symptoms, take a test as soon as possible. The best way to collect a sample for a flu test is with a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab. Your healthcare provider may recommend one of the following types of flu tests if you have flu symptoms [5]:

  1. Rapid antigen test: This test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT), and it detects parts of the virus called antigens. This test has low-to-moderate sensitivity (40-80%), which means the test is more likely to give you a false negative result. After taking the test, you can get test results in 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Rapid molecular assay: Molecular assays are the gold standard for identifying influenza. This type of test detects the flu virus's genetic material (RNA), enabling the test to have a higher sensitivity (i.e., more accurate) than an RIDT. The Infectious Disease Society of America recommends rapid molecular assays over RIDTs [9]. After taking the test, you can get test results in 10 to 40 minutes.
  3. Molecular assay: This test is completed at a certified clinical or public health laboratory. Molecular assays can detect other aspects of the virus, such as its strain. After taking the test, you can get results in 45 to 80 minutes.

Can you take Tamiflu without a positive flu test?

Yes, it is safe to take Tamiflu without a positive flu test if you talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and health history. When you are at high risk of developing a severe influenza infection with complications, your healthcare provider is more likely to prescribe Tamiflu as a prophylactic treatment before a positive flu test [6-11].

People with end-stage kidney disease are not eligible for Tamiflu [7]. Tamiflu can cause side effects, including skin and hypersensitivity reactions such as erythema multiforme [7].

Can children take Tamiflu without a positive flu test?

Yes, children who are at high risk of experiencing severe influenza symptoms can take Tamiflu without a positive flu test [11]. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states treating children with Tamiflu may reduce the severity and duration of the flu [11]. Tamiflu is approved for children as young as 2 weeks old [11].

Do you need Tamiflu to prevent the flu?

No, you do not need to take Tamiflu to prevent the flu. Tamiflu is not a substitute for your yearly influenza vaccination [8]. You can take other precautions in addition to getting the flu vaccine. These precautions are [13]:

  1. Keeping your distance from others
  2. Staying at home if you're sick
  3. Sneezing with your mouth and nose covered
  4. Regularly washing your hands
  5. Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  6. Practicing self-care

Try Everlywell's telehealth option for flu treatment online, allowing you to book a video appointment with a healthcare provider who can diagnose your condition based on symptoms and exposure history, and prescribe medication as necessary.

Can you take Tamiflu as a preventative?

Can kids take Tamiflu?

What if I need a lab test after my telehealth visit?


  1. Weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published January 20, 2023. Accessed January 25, 2023.
  2. Disease burden of flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published December 1, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
  3. Key facts about influenza (flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published October 24, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
  4. Influenza (Flu). Merck Manual Consumer Version. URL. Published April 2022. Accessed January 25, 2022.
  5. Uyeki TM, Hui DS, Zambon M, Wentworth DE, Monto AS. Influenza. The Lancet. 2022;400(10353):693-706. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(22)00982-5. URL.
  6. Sur M, Lopez MJ, Baker MB. Oseltamivir. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. URL.
  7. TAMIFLU. Gene.com. URL. Accessed January 25, 2023.
  8. Kaiser L, Wat C, Mills T, Mahoney P, Ward P, Hayden F. Impact of Oseltamivir Treatment on Influenza-Related Lower Respiratory Tract Complications and Hospitalizations. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163(14):1667. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.14.1667. URL.
  9. Uyeki TM, Bernstein HH, Bradley JS, et al. Clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America: 2018 update on diagnosis, treatment, chemoprophylaxis, and institutional outbreak management of seasonal influenza. Clin Infect Dis. 2019;68(6):e1-e47. doi:10.1093/cid/ciy866. URL.
  10. Influenza antiviral medications: Summary for clinicians. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL Published December 15, 2022. Accessed January 24, 2023.
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Infectious Diseases. Recommendations for prevention and control of influenza in children, 2022-2023. Pediatrics. 2022;150(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2022-059275. URL.
  12. Healthy habits to help protect against flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published December 12, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
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