Can antibiotics treat the new coronavirus?

19th February, 2020 • 3 min read

As a new coronavirus infection continues to spread worldwide, misinformation, it seems, is spreading along with it.

A case in point is the myth that antibiotics can treat the lung and airway infection caused by the virus.

They can’t.

In this article, Prof Dr. Maureen Baker, Chief Medical Officer at Your.MD and former Chair of the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners, explains why antibiotics are not effective in the fight against the new coronavirus illness, COVID-19.

The antibiotic myth

Most people have heard of

. It’s an infection of the lungs that’s often caused by a bacterial infection.

When a person has bacterial pneumonia, doctors generally use antibiotics to treat the infection because antibiotics attack and kill bacteria.

While COVID-19 can sometimes cause pneumonia, the type of pneumonia it causes isn’t bacterial - it’s caused by a virus, a type of germ that has a different structure to bacteria.

This means that

, which are designed to kill bacteria, simply don’t work against viruses.

There are antiviral medicines that can be used to fight some viruses, such as those that cause

. However, scientists haven’t yet developed antiviral medicines that can kill the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

How to effectively treat the new coronavirus

This doesn’t mean that COVID-19 pneumonia can’t be treated - it can.

Doctors can supply oxygen and other medicines to help support an ill person and improve their symptoms - a treatment known as supportive care.

In some cases, doctors may also prescribe antibiotics for someone with COVID-19, but this is only done when a bacterial infection develops on top of the underlying viral illness.

It’s this type of treatment combination that helps most people with pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus to get better.

Fortunately, the majority of people affected by COVID-19 don’t develop pneumonia. They seem to have a mild illness that features a fever and muscle aches for a few days.

You can read more about the coronavirus and how to reduce your risk of catching it in this article:

everything you need to know about the new coronavirus

If you think you may have coronavirus, you can use our COVID-19 Symptom Mapper to check your symptoms and compare them with others around the world.

This should give you a better understanding of how the illness is affecting you and will help us to map the spread of the outbreak.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.