Are antibiotics effective at treating COVID-19?

In a Nutshell

  • COVID-19 infection is caused by virus and therefore antibiotics are not advised for management or treatment of COVID-19 infection
  • Antibiotics are only advised if there is an active secondary bacterial infection
  • Some antibiotics are being tested by researchers, but so far there is no evidence that antibiotics can help manage COVID-19 symptoms

Rationale for antibiotics

Investigators and healthcare professionals are testing out a variety of drugs and drug groups to study the potential role of different drugs in the management of COVID-19 infection based on historical evidence and previous researches. This include drugs like antibiotics, antivirals, antimalarials, and other groups, but so far there is no proven therapy or drug regimen that can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 infection.

Verdict -Are antibiotics effective at treating COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by coronavirus and therefore antibiotics or antibacterial drugs are not effective for the management or treatment of symptoms. Healthcare providers strongly advice against using antibiotics as a preventive or therapeutic tool against COVID-19 infection.

The only indication of using antibiotics in COVID-19 patients is if such patients have developed a secondary bacterial infection as a complication of COVID-19 (such as pneumonia), in which case antibiotics can be administered to alleviate the bacterial infection.

Have researchers investigated the role of any antibiotic for COVID-19 management?

Researchers have investigated some antibiotics as well in addition to antiviral drugs to explore treatment options for COVID-19. This include antibiotics like Azithromycin.

Azithromycin is an antibiotic that has previously shown efficacy against viral infections like Zika and Ebola in controlled test-tube experiments. Azithromycin has shown to exert anti-inflammatory activity when taken with Chloroquine, which makes it a good candidate to control overactive immune system; but so far, the cons outweigh potential benefits of this therapy.

Are there other medications that are being tested for COVID-19 management?

Several other drugs and drug groups are being tested to investigate their role in COVID-19 management, such as:

  • Drugs that are helpful in the management of autoimmune disorders
  • Antiviral drug regimens
  • Convalescent plasma therapy that involves transfer of antibodies from the treated patients to confer passive immunity
  • Anti-malarial drugs

So far there has not been any medication or drug that has shown to prevent, manage or improve the symptoms of COVID-19.

What treatment options are available for COVID-19?

As of now, there are no approved medications or treatment options designed specifically for the management or treatment of COVID-19 symptoms. Health organizations like FDA and CDC advise supportive treatment to address COVID-19 symptoms. This include over the counter treatment options like Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen) to manage fever and body aches and administration of fluids to prevent dehydration.

  • People with mild symptoms should ideally isolate themselves at home until they recover completely.
  • People with moderate to severe disease who are experiencing serious complications (such as troubled breathing) should seek emergent help.
  • Do not take any medication or treatment that is not advised by your healthcare provider.

Nuances/ Safety:

Do not take any medication unless advised by your healthcare professional. Researchers have reported serious complications in COVID-19 patients with regimens involving antibiotics (Azithromycin) and antimalarials (Chloroquine).

Strength of Evidence: B
The inferences drawn in this article are based of small-scale studies and ongoing investigation / research by FDA, WHO and CDC.

Our Ruling:

Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections. Since COVID-19 is caused by a virus (coronavirus), antibiotics are NOT useful or effective as the primary management tool for COVID-19 infection. Investigators are testing some antibiotics like Azithromycin alongside antiviral drugs like Chloroquine but so far evidence is not substantial that can warrant the use of any antibiotic or antiviral regimen for COVID-19 management. If you have developed signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection, speak to your healthcare provider for medical advice.

Our Sources:

  1. https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-frequently-asked-questions
  2. https://covid19.nj.gov/faqs/coronavirus-information/about-the-virus/are-antibiotics-effective-in-preventing-or-treating-the-covid-19
  3. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/antibiotic-treatment-covid-19-complications-could-fuel-resistant-bacteria
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Learn more about it here.