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Antibiotics for the Flu?

When can antibiotics help, and when do they hurt?

How Do I Know if I Need Antibiotics for Flu Complications? continued...

However, experts say that flu complications tend to show up in a standard pattern.  It goes like this: you get sick from the flu, often very suddenly, and feel just awful; after a week or so, you start to feel better; but then you suddenly get worse. 

“That’s the classic presentation of a secondary bacterial infection from the flu,” Hay tells WebMD.  “Feeling better and then feeling worse.”

If you do have a secondary bacterial infection, you need to follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to taking your medicine.  Most importantly, use the whole course of antibiotics for flu complications.  Hay says it’s pretty common for people to take their antibiotics for a few days, feel better, and then forget about taking the rest.  That’s a bad idea.

“You have to finish the whole prescription,” says Hay.  “If you don’t, some of the bacteria might remain in your body.” That could make you sick again and lead to antibiotic drug resistance. 

On the other hand, you shouldn’t take doses higher than what you’ve been prescribed either. That could lead to antibiotic overdose.  Like any drug overdose, it can be dangerous.  Just follow the instructions you see on the prescription bottle’s label.

Dealing With Your Doctor

These days, we’re all supposed to be active patients. We’re supposed to take some responsibility for our own health instead of politely waiting for our doctor to tell us what to do.

While that’s all well and good, it doesn’t mean that you should demand antibiotics from your doctor at the first sign of a runny nose. They won’t help.

You might ask, what’s the harm of taking antibiotics just in case you get a bacterial infection after the flu?

“There are dangers to taking antibiotics when you don’t need them,” says Hay.  “We all have some bacteria in us at any given time.  If you take unnecessary antibiotics, you increase the risk of creating a strain of resistant bacteria in your body.  You can then spread those resistant bugs onto other people.” They could also reinfect you.

It’s understandable that you want to do something -- anything -- to feel better when you have the flu.  But taking medicines you don’t need is always a bad idea.

“Just remember that if your doctor tells you that you don’t need an antibiotic, that’s a good thing,” says Schaffner.  It means that you just have the flu, and not something that can be a whole lot worse.

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Reviewed on October 09, 2007

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