They Fight Bacteria, Not Viruses

Antibiotics are meant to be used against bacterial infections.  For example, they are used to treat strep throat, which is caused by streptococcal bacteria, and skin infections caused by staphylococcal bacteria.  Although antibiotics kill bacteria, they are not effective against viruses.  Therefore, they will not be effective against viral infections such as colds, most coughs, many types of sore throat and the flu.

Using antibiotics against viral infections

  • Won’t cure the infection
  • Won’t keep other individuals from catching the virus
  • Won’t help a person feel better
  • May cause unnecessary, harmful side effects
  • May contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Patients and healthcare professionals alike can play an important role in combating antibiotic resistance.  Patients should not demand antibiotics when a healthcare professional says the drugs are not needed.  Healthcare professionals should prescribe antibiotics only for infections they believe to be caused by bacteria.

As a patient, your best approach is to ask your healthcare professional whether an antibiotic is likely to be effective for your condition.  Also, ask what else you can do to relieve your symptoms.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration