TAKING antibiotics more than triples the risk of dying from flu – and could even make symptoms worse, a study suggests.
Researchers warn the drugs kill friendly bacteria in the gut that help the body fight the virus.
1 Antibiotics can weaken your flu defences and even worsen symptoms, a new study has foundCredit: Getty – Contributor
One in five mice died when they were infected with flu in lab tests.
But this rocketed to two in three among those who had previously been given antibiotics.
It equates to a 2.3-fold greater risk of dying from the virus, which kills around 8,000 Brits a year.Weakened defences
Dr Andreas Wack, from The Francis Crick Institute, in London, warned against the overuse of the drugs.
He said: “We found that antibiotics can wipe out early flu resistance, adding further evidence that they should not be taken or prescribed lightly.
“Inappropriate use not only promotes antibiotic resistance and kills helpful gut bacteria, but may also leave us more vulnerable to viruses.
“This could be relevant not only in humans but also livestock animals, as many farms around the world use antibiotics prophylactically.
“Further research in these environments is urgently needed to see whether this makes them more susceptible to viral infections.”
The researchers found that cells lining the lungs were important than immune cells in flu resistance at the early stages of infection.
They said: “They are the only place that the virus can multiply, so they are the key battleground in the fight against flu.
“Gut bacteria send a signal that keeps the cells lining the lung prepared, preventing the virus from multiplying so quickly.”
What is antibiotic resistance?The overuse of antibiotics in recent years means they’re becoming less effective and has led to the emergence of ‘superbugs’.
These are strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many different types of antibiotics, including:
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
the bacteria that cause multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis
These types of infections can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world.
The biggest worry is that new strains of bacteria may emerge that cannot be treated by any existing antibiotics.
Both the NHS and health organisations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for health problems that are not serious.
Bacteria in the gut send signals that keep antiviral genes in the lining of the lungs active.
These produce a protein that create a hostile environment and make it hard for the virus to multiply.
It takes two days for the immune system to respond, during which time flu can gain a foothold.
Mice given antibiotics had five times more virus in their lungs by this stage than untreated mice.
It meant the response had to be stronger, leading to more severe symptoms and more deaths.
GPs dole out 38million courses of antibiotics each year, with a fifth said to be unnecessary.
Experts warn the overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective and fuelling superbugs.
The findings are published in the journal Cell Reports.
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