The use, overuse, and over-prescribing of antibiotics, as well as the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are nothing new, but now a new study reveals that “mistakenly using antibiotics to try and treat the flu could make the illness up to three times more deadly, by disabling the body’s first line of defense against the virus,” IFLScience.com reported.
The study, recently published in the journal Cell Reports, treated mice with a course of antibiotics before infecting them with the flu virus to test the theory that bacteria in the gut is actually the first line of defense against the flu and that, through repeated misuse of antibiotics, we are actually hindering our bodies ability to defend itself naturally.
According to the authors of this study, it takes two days for our immune systems to detect the presence of the flu and begin combating it. In the meantime, the virus makes itself at home in the lining of the lungs, where it begins to multiple. The bacteria in the gut is able to signal an antiviral gene in the lungs that keeps the flu virus at bay until the remainder of the immune system is activated.
The researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London who were responsible for this study found that after two days, the mice who had been given the antibiotics had five times more virus in their lungs than the other group. Only a third of them would go on to survive the flu, compared to the 80% who had not been treated with antibiotics.
“We found that antibiotics can wipe out early flu resistance, adding further evidence that they should not be taken or prescribed lightly,” Dr. Andreas Wack, research team leader, said in a statement. “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.”