Should You Take Antibiotics for the Flu?

Fall and winter bring an influx of flu cases. Many people think of taking antibiotics for the flu, but there are reasons why you shouldn’t.

What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat patients with infectious diseases. They inhibit the growth of and destroy microorganisms. Antibiotics have greatly reduced illnesses and deaths caused from infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What Causes the Flu?

When someone with the flu sneezes, coughs or even talks, droplets of the flu virus can travel through the air. You can inhale these droplets or pick them up when touching an object—like a cellphone, keyboard or doorknob—and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

The flu also spreads quickly because people are often contagious before their symptoms start showing. They can remain contagious for five to 10 days after their symptoms appear.

Learn more about the flu.

Symptoms of the Flu

These are a few common flu symptoms. Not everyone will have every symptom, and you can have the flu without running a fever, according to the CDC.

  • Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Aches, chills and sweats
  • Dry cough and sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Congestion

Why You Shouldn’t Take Antibiotics for the Flu

Antibiotics do not help fight viruses — they treat infections. Since the flu is a virus, antibiotics aren’t needed or effective for treating the flu (or other respiratory viruses). Taking antibiotics for the flu won’t cure the flu, help you feel better or keep you from being contagious.

Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed can actually do more harm than good. It can increase your chance of getting an infection later on that is resistant to antibiotics, can kill the healthy bacteria in your body and can cause adverse drug events, according to the CDC.

If you think you have the flu, stay home and rest. This will help you recover more quickly and prevent spreading the virus to others. If your symptoms persist, you might need some form of prescription medication. If you think this is the case, call your doctor.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

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