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Colds and flus - antibiotics

Antibiotics do NOT cure colds and flus.

Information

Antibiotics fight infections that are caused by bacteria, but they do not treat infections that are caused by a virus. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics will NOT make you better.

Antibiotics can destroy normal ("healthy") bacteria that live in your body. When this happens, symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea may develop, and women can get vaginal yeast infections.

The overuse of antibiotics has played a role in the increase of drug-resistant bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics can also put you at risk of an allergic reaction. Antibiotics should not be taken when they will not treat an illness.

Alternative Names

Antibiotics - colds and flu

References

Melio FR, Berge LR. Upper respiratory tract infection. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 75.

Lindell A, Kelsberg G, Safranek S. Antibiotics for viral upper respiratory tract infections in children. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(6):747-752.

Livingston C, Cozzens J, Hamilton A. Treatments for symptoms of the common cold. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(3):864C-864D.

Update Date: 5/5/2014

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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