Antiviral agents have been hailed to hold considerable promise for the treatment and prevention of emerging viral diseases like H5N1 avian influenza and SARS. However, antiviral drugs are not completely harmless, and the conditions under which individuals are willing to participate in a large-scale antiviral drug treatment program are as yet unknown. We provide population dynamical and game theoretical analyses of large-scale prophylactic antiviral treatment programs. Throughout we compare the antiviral control strategy that is optimal from the public health perspective with the control strategy that would evolve if individuals make their own, rational decisions. To this end we investigate the conditions under which a large-scale antiviral control program can prevent an epidemic, and we analyze at what point in an unfolding epidemic the risk of infection starts to outweigh the cost of antiviral treatment. This enables investigation of how the optimal control strategy is moulded by the efficacy of antiviral drugs, the risk of mortality by antiviral prophylaxis, and the transmissibility of the pathogen. Our analyses show that there can be a strong incentive for an individual to take less antiviral drugs than is optimal from the public health perspective. In particular, when public health asks for early and aggressive control to prevent or curb an emerging pathogen, for the individual antiviral drug treatment is attractive only when the risk of infection has become non-negligible. It is even possible that from a public health perspective a situation in which everybody takes antiviral drugs is optimal, while the process of individual choice leads to a situation where nobody is willing to take antiviral drugs.