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Ask a Doc: Antibiotics Don't Work Against the Cold or Flu

January 03, 2019

Q: I’ve heard that antibiotics don’t work against the cold or flu. Is that true?

 

A: That’s right. While antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, such as strep throat, they don’t work at all against viral ones like the cold and the flu.

So taking antibiotics for either illness won’t cure the infection, or make you feel better, or help you return to work or school sooner. Taking them could even be harmful since antibiotics can cause side effects.

Using them unnecessarily can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. That’s a growing problem in which medicines that used to be effective against bacterial illnesses lose their power.

Often, the best thing to do for a cold or flu it to let it run its course. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and ask your doctor what you can do for symptom relief as your body fights off the virus.

If your illness is worse after two weeks, call your doctor.

Of course, it’s always best to take steps to avoid getting sick: Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water. Scrub them for at least 20 seconds, and rinse them well.

And make sure you get the flu vaccine every year. It’s the best protection against the flu.

-Leah Avera, MD, family medicine physician with Kettering Physician Network Primary Care in Middletown

Your Best Defense. Visit your primary care doctor to get your flu shot. Click here to find a primary care physician.