Can Antibiotics Treat COVID-19?

If you’ve ever been prescribed an antibiotic for an infection, you know how effective these medications can be. But they don’t work for every illness—including COVID-19.

“Patients with COVID-19 sometimes ask us to prescribe antibiotics because they believe this will help them feel better,” said Anthony Griffin, MD, of Memorial Care – Primary Care. “The truth is that antibiotics are extremely effective in treating illnesses caused by bacteria. But they won’t help with COVID-19, which is caused by a virus.”

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for conditions like strep throat and urinary tract infections, both of which are caused by bacteria. But many other common illnesses, like the common cold, flu and chickenpox, are caused by viruses. Taking antibiotics for these conditions won’t help—and could even hurt in the long run.

“Taking unnecessary antibiotics is one factor leading to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Dr. Griffin said. “This means that antibiotics are gradually becoming less able to fight dangerous bacteria, putting everyone at risk.”

So what can patients do to relieve their COVID-19 symptoms? Doctors advise people recovering from COVID-19 at home to use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.

“The at-home treatment for mild cases of COVID-19 is not that different from treating the flu,” Dr. Griffin said. “If you’re sick, your doctor will be able to give you more detailed information about how to relieve your symptoms.”

Learn more about COVID-19 and antibiotic resistance from the CDC.

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