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Flu Treatment With Antibiotics

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD

Looking for an effective flu treatment and wondering if antibiotics will work? They won’t.

These medications fight infections caused by bacteria, but the flu results from a virus. So does a cold, so they won’t help with that, either.

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In fact, taking them when you have a virus may do more harm than good. It can make you more likely to get an infection later that won’t respond to these meds at all, a condition called antibiotic resistance.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid these drugs in other situations. They can save your life, and if your doctor says you need them, you should fill the prescription for them ASAP.

How Does Antibiotic Resistance Work?

It happens when bacteria changes in a way that makes an antibiotic work less effectively or stop working altogether.

If you take these meds too often or use them when you don’t need them, the bacteria in your body are exposed to them over and over again. They get stronger and become able to resist them.

If that happens, your illness may linger with no signs of improvement. Or you may suddenly take a turn for the worse and wind up in the emergency room. You might have to be admitted to the hospital so you can get several different antibiotics through a vein (IV). And you could spread the ailment to people around you.

How Can I Avoid Antibiotic Resistance?

To protect yourself and others, take antibiotics only when you need them for a bacterial infection. Here are some tips:

  1. Don't ask for these meds every time you see your doctor. Understand that they treat bacterial infections, not symptoms of a cold or flu virus.
  2. Use these drugs as directed if your doctor prescribes them. Take all the medication. Don't save any for future use.
  3. Don't share antibiotics with others.

What Works for the Flu?

Your best option is to take steps to avoid getting it in the first place. Get a flu shot every year. Make sure you wash your hands often and thoroughly so you don’t spread germs.

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