Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. Flu -- whether itâ€™s typical seasonal flu or swine flu -- is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. So antibiotics have absolutely no effect on any kind of flu. But this message just wonâ€™t sink in for some people.
â€œWe still have oodles of patients coming into the doctors, or bringing their children to the doctors, who want antibiotics for influenza,â€ says Schaffner.
However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia.
Some patients with flu want antibiotics just in case they might develop a complication. But Hay says this attempt at prevention doesnâ€™t work. It could make things worse. â€œIf you take antibiotics unnecessarily and then really do wind up with a secondary bacterial infection, then it might be resistant to those antibiotics,â€ says Hay.
If your flu symptoms are getting better and then suddenly get worse, call your doctor. This may be a sign of a bacterial co-infection.