What infections should not be treated with antibiotics?

Ken Szwak, PA-C
Emergency Medicine
Antibiotics should not be used to treat viral infections. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Where the confusion can lie is that antibiotics have no use against viral pathogens and viral illnesses. A lot of the common illnesses that people get that cause sore throats, ear pain, and coughs, wind up being caused by viruses. These illnesses will not be affected by antibiotics. Taking antibiotics in that scenario can cause some unintended consequences that a lot of people don't realize.

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Viral infections that should not be treated with antibiotics include:
  • colds
  • flu
  • most coughs and bronchitis
  • sore throats (except for those resulting from strep throat)
  • some ear infections
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Continue Learning about Viral Infections

Viral Infections

Viral Infections

Viral infections like herpes simplex, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), chicken pox and rotavirus are infections caused by a virus instead of a bacterium. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics, but some specific viruses ...

like influenza A and B can be treated with certain antiviral medications. Most commonly, treatment for viral infections includes drinking lots of fluids, getting rest, eating well and letting the illness run its course.

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.