Is It Necessary to Take Antibiotics for Viral Infections?

Alex Tree

Taking antibiotics for viral infections is not necessary or recommended. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections, whereas bacterial infections usually respond well to them. For the most part, viral infections themselves cannot be treated or cured, but some medications can make symptoms more manageable. The common cold, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the flu are common viral infections for which no cure has been found. Misusing antibiotics can help harmful bacteria build a resistance to the medication, making it virtually ineffective when antibiotics really are needed.

Vaccines are available to prevent viral infections such as the flu.
Vaccines are available to prevent viral infections such as the flu.

Using antibiotics for viral infections is pointless and potentially harmful because of how viruses work. A virus invades and lives inside previously healthy cells of a person’s body, so the virus is protected from most medicines. If a virus worked more like a bacterial infection, scientists most likely would have found a cure for the common cold and other common viral infections. A person who has a viral infection and finds that antibiotics make him or her feel better is experiencing a placebo effect or has other, undiagnosed health problems.

Antihistamines can be used to reduce swelling and redness from a bite.
Antihistamines can be used to reduce swelling and redness from a bite.

Viral infections such as the flu and the common cold are usually “treated” with time. A person also can make sure to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and take medications that relieve aches and pains to help him or her sleep. It also is important for the infected person to practice good hygiene to not spread the infection to other people who come into contact with him or her. A viral infection usually goes away within two weeks, but the elderly and pregnant women are at risk of complications from serious viral infections such as the flu.

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Although cures do not exist, people can get vaccines to prevent infections such as the flu. Practicing good hygiene also goes a long way toward staying healthy and helping other people stay healthy. In addition, some vitamin products are proven to lessen the severity and duration of the common cold. Still, companies that promise a cure for a viral infection or offer antibiotics for viral infections should be viewed with skepticism.

Antibiotics for viral infections do not work, but they can work for most bacterial infections if doctors prescribe them responsibly and patients take them according to a doctor’s orders. One of the worst things that a patient can do is stop taking an antibiotic after they feel better. Most healthcare professionals advise taking the full course of medication and stopping only if a potentially dangerous side effect or allergic reaction is experienced.

Discussion Comments


I find it interesting that if someone feels better after taking antibiotics for a viral infection, they are just experiencing a placebo effect. There are so many times when I wish they could give me some kind of antibiotic when I have a cold.

I seem to come down with at least one bad cold a winter, and sometimes this can keep me down for much longer than I want it to. I try to take vitamin C to strengthen my immune system, but I don't know if it really helps or not.

I have heard that many people get upset if they go to the doctor and are not prescribed anything. I have been in that position when I go to the doctor hoping for something that will take care of the infection and he tells me to just go home, get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids.


I wonder if they will ever find a cure or a medication that works for the common cold. Whenever I have viral infection symptoms like the cold or flu, I take over-the-counter medications to help with the symptoms, but the infection seems to take a long time to go away.

I try to stay home when I have a viral infection because I know these are usually contagious. That is why so many kids are sick when they are in child care because the colds keep getting passed around from child to child. If there was some kind of medication that cleared this up, I think it would be wonderful.


I knew that antibiotics did not work for viral infections, but didn't realize that taking them could actually be harmful for you. I wonder if some infections start as viral in nature and then turn into a bacterial infection.

As an example, more than once I have had a sore throat and cough that was similar to the common cold. Knowing that an antibiotic wouldn't help, I nurse the cold on my own. Then a few weeks later I end up with strep throat, which is a bacterial infection and is treated with antibiotics.

I have always found that taking antibiotics for bacterial infections is the fastest way to clear them up. The longer I try to deal with it on my own, the worse I end up feeling. Once I finally go to the doctor, I seem to feel better within a short period of time.


More than once I have gone to the doctor hoping for an antibiotic but was told I had a viral infection and an antibiotic would not help. I understand the difference between a bacterial and viral infection, but sometimes don't know which one I have until I see a doctor. I almost hope it is a bacterial infection so I can take something that will help me feel better quickly.

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