Can antibiotics help treat the flu?

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine
Antibiotics work against bacteria, says Darria Gillespie, MD, ER physician at Emory Hospital. In this video she explains that the flu is a virus, so antibiotics are not a treatment option.
Because the flu is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics only kill bacteria and thus are useless against the flu. Taking antibiotics when you don't need them contributes to an important public health problem -- antibiotic resistance. Some diseases that were once easily cured by antibiotics have become resistant to treatment. For example, earlier this century, antibiotics nearly eliminated dreaded bacterial diseases like tuberculosis and gonorrhea. However, years of widespread misuse have allowed antibiotic-resistant forms of these illnesses to become more common.

However, if your healthcare professional finds that you've developed a bacterial infection such as pneumonia, you will likely need antibiotics. Take the full amount of medication as prescribed, even if you start feeling better. Otherwise, the infection may return. Never stockpile antibiotics or share them with other people.
Antibiotics will not help treat the flu, because they fight bacterial infections, not viral illnesses like influenza or the common cold. Taking an antibiotic for the flu will not speed recovery, provide symptom relief, or make you any less contagious. In fact, taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it can put you at higher risk of acquiring an infection that resists antibiotic treatment. However, if you are diagnosed with the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that can shorten the illness, lessen its severity, and reduce the risk of complications.
Both the flu (influenza) and the common cold are caused by viruses, so antibiotics do not treat them. However, some of the complications of colds and influenza are bacterial, such as ear infections, sinus  infections, and pneumonia. Antibiotics can be used to treat these complications.

Continue Learning about Cold and Flu

Cold and Flu

Cold and Flu

Colds and flu are both viral infections, but have different symptoms. With a cold you will have symptoms such as a runny nose or a sore throat. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and may include fever, body aches or vomiting. While the...

re is no cure for either, there are treatments -- chicken soup, nasal sprays, rest -- which can help your feel better.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.