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What Are the Pros and Cons of Antibiotics for Fever?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Understanding the pros and cons of taking antibiotics for fever can help determine the best decision on a case-by-case basis. While antibiotics may be effective for treating fevers related to a bacterial infection, they can be ineffective and even dangerous if a fever is caused by a virus. Consulting a physician before beginning an antibiotic regimen is the best way to ensure that the right drugs are being used to treat the problem.

Antibiotics for fever are frequently warranted when the cause of an illness involves bacteria. Urinary tract infections, strep throat, sinus infections, and organ-based infections are often caused by a growing bacterial colony and carry a risk of a fever. Antibiotics work by killing off the bacteria, which leads to the reduction of other symptoms, including associated fevers. If a doctor can determine that a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics for fever and the underlying condition may well be a patient's first line of defense.

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On the other hand, many infections are viral in nature, including most colds, respiratory infections, and influenza. Using antibiotics for fever when a viral infection is present will not reduce the symptoms or fix the underlying problem, because the medication is not capable of attacking a virus. In some cases, doctors may prescribe an antiviral medication that can kill viruses, much as an antibiotic can kill bacteria. Since most viral infections resolve unaided, however, doctors may simply advise the use of over-the-counter drugs and increased rest to reduce fevers and other symptoms.

The tricky part of determining whether to use antibiotics for fever lies in the fact that many doctors cannot give a definitive diagnosis of whether a minor illness is bacterial or viral in nature. This may lead people to consider self-medication with antibiotics on hand, or to ask a doctor for an antibiotic prescription just in case the infection is bacterial.

While an antibiotics for fever can work if the condition turns out to be bacterial, there are some risks in taking antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary. If fevers are caused by a viral illness, taking antibiotics may actually increase some symptoms, such as nausea, sleeplessness, or digestive troubles. More concerning, overexposure to antibiotics can cause bacteria to develop a resistance, making bacterial infections more difficult to treat over time. For this reason, many doctors advise avoiding antibiotics for fever unless the underlying illness can be positively determined as a bacterial infection that is unlikely to resolve on its own.

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