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Why Antibiotics Were Not Prescribed for a Viral Infection

Colds, flu, and many other upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and rhinosinusitis are usually caused by viruses.

Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Viral infections are almost always cured by your body’s own immune system.

Based on your history and physical examination, it is likely that your illness is caused by a virus. Your illness is unlikely to be helped by an antibiotic. Antibiotics do not shorten the length of time that you will feel sick from a virus. Antibiotics do not prevent you from spreading an illness caused by a virus. Patients given antibiotics may start to feel better, but this is because the virus infection is resolving on its own and not because of the antibiotic.

In addition, taking antibiotics can come with certain risks:

  • Almost one in every four persons taking antibiotics experiences side effects (for example, dizziness, stomach problems, rash, diarrhea, vaginal yeast infection).
  • Rarely, people can have severe allergic reactions to antibiotics.
  • Using antibiotics when they aren’t needed can lead to the antibiotics not working against other infections in the future, also known as antibiotic resistance.
  • Taking antibiotics can increase the risk for Clostridium difficile infection, a form of diarrhea that requires additional treatment with antibiotics and even stool transplant in severe cases.

At this time, we recommend that you focus on treating your symptoms. Rest, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter medications for symptom relief. You can prevent the spread of the virus to others by washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, coughing into your sleeve, and staying away from others while you are sick.

Seek re-evaluation by your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • You don’t get better after a week
  • You get better, but then get worse again
  • You have a high fever (greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
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