Antibiotics don't kill viruses
Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections or diseases caused by bacteria.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses. Many common respiratory tract infections (RTIs) — such as colds and flu — are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are of no use.
A course of antibiotics won’t help you to get over a cold or flu (influenza) faster, won’t stop your infection from getting worse, and won’t prevent your infection being passed onto other people.
If you are usually healthy and well, your immune system will take care of most respiratory tract infections — both viral and some bacterial infections — by itself.
Dr Nick Carr explains why antibiotics won't help a cold get better faster, or stop a cold from spreading or getting worse. Find out who really needs antibiotics and when.
In the meantime, you can make yourself more comfortable by:
- treating your symptoms
- drinking lots of water and non-alcoholic fluids
- using medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen if needed.
If you do have symptoms of a respiratory tract infection caused by bacteria (e.g. whooping cough), or if you are at risk of the complications of a cold or flu (often a second bacterial infection like pneumonia), your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Our colouring-in pages for kids explain that antibiotics won’t work to treat colds or flu.
Encourage people to help prevent antibiotic resistance by not using antibiotics when they aren’t needed.