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Colds and flus - antibiotics

Antibiotics do NOT cure colds and flus.


Antibiotics fight infections that are caused by bacteria. 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.

The overuse of antibiotics can:

  • Kill normal ("healthy") bacteria that live in your body. This may cause nausea and diarrhea. Women can get vaginal yeast infections.
  • Increase the risk of drug-resistant bacterial infections.
  • Put you at risk of an allergic reaction.

Do not take antibiotics when they will not treat an illness.

Alternative Names

Antibiotics - colds and flu


Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of the common cold in children and adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):153-159. PMID: 22962927 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22962927.

Melio FR, Berge LR. Upper respiratory tract infections. 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.

Review Date 1/10/2016

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.