Do Antibiotics Work Against Flu and Strep Throat?

Naturally, people are concerned about various viruses and “bugs” that make the rounds every winter. This is especially true for parents of young children, who often spend their days in schools and daycare centers in the company of many other children. In these settings, it’s very easy for illness to spread. Children who do catch something can easily go home and subject other family members to a flu, cold, or strep throat infection. Obviously, this is never an ideal situation.

When a cold, flu or strep throat infection is suspected, many adults (whether parents or not) feel that the best course of action is to start a course of antibiotics immediately, in order to “stop the illness in its tracks” and put the patient on track for recovery as soon as possible. This is a natural impulse, since antibiotics are known to be a powerful way to reverse the course of an infection — and we all know that a nasty case of flu or strep throat is no fun for anybody.

But taking antibiotics for cold and flu is illogical and ineffective for one big reason: both are viral infections. Antibiotics simply do not work for the treatment of any virus. Starting or completing a course of antibiotics for cold and flu will not only fail to speed up recovery or “attack” the virus — it will also subject the body to the side effects of antibiotics. Usually those side effects aren’t very serious, but the fact remains that antibiotics are powerful medicine. It’s not always easy for the body to handle antibiotics. That’s why they should never be prescribed or taken unless it’s really necessary.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection

What’s the major difference between cold, flu and strep throat? Strep throat is a bacterial infection. This means that antibiotics can and should be used for treatment of strep throat, in many cases. Because the nature of the infection is bacterial, antibiotics can perform their natural function of killing the bacteria and eventually removing the infection. When antibiotics are taken for a common viral infection like cold or flu, the medicine will have no positive effects.

Are antibiotics necessary for strep throat? Not necessarily. Sore throat can develop as a result of other illnesses, including cold and flu. That’s why it’s so important to visit your urgent care center and obtain a confirmed diagnosis of strep throat before using antibiotics. People often have antibiotics left over from previous courses (usually the patient is instructed to completely finish a course of antibiotics, but patients don’t always do this), and they take this medicine (or give it to a family member) when strep throat or some other illness is suspected. This is never recommended, and can be very unsafe.

What’s the bottom line?

Cold and flu cannot be treated with antibiotics, while strep throat can be. Either way, it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis at Family First Urgent Care in either Oakhurst or Toms River, and follow the treatment plan prescribed by your nurse or doctor.