A new study suggests that taking antibiotics when it is not necessary can make the flu or other infections worse. The researchers of the upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report that antibiotics kill friendly bacteria living in the intestines that contribute to the immune system’s infection fighting capabilities. Mice on antibiotics have been shown to not be able to fight off the flu as well as mice that have not been treated with antibiotics. Researchers have known that friendly bacteria in the intestines help stop disease-causing bacteria from flourishing in the gut. However, researchers believed that this helpful bacteria solely existed in the digestive system. This new study suggests that these bacteria can also regulate resistance to viruses. Because the lungs are normally sterile, it is fascinating that killing bacteria far away from the lungs would have an effect on how they could fight off viruses.
The study treated mice for a month with four antibiotics commonly given for bacterial infections, then infected them with the flu virus. The antibiotics suppressed the mice’s ability to make an important molecule that fights off the flu. The mice that were treated with antibiotics did not generally have weakened immune systems and were still able to fight off herpes because the immune system uses a different molecule for defense. Researchers have still not identified what bacteria in the gut are virus-fighting, although they do know that there are bacteria in the gut that are not able to do so. If researchers are capable of figuring out which bacteria are responsible for fighting off viruses than it would be possible to make probiotics that will boost these capabilities.
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Written by: Melissa Marques