Bacteria and viruses are different in the way they are structured and reproduce. Viruses have to live within another living cell in order to survive. To reproduce, they hijack the cell by inserting their own genetic material into the cell’s DNA.
But bacteria can live and reproduce on their own. Antibiotics are designed to kill or prevent bacteria from reproducing. Doctors choose which antibiotic to use depending on what kind of a bacterial infection you have. For example, the antibiotic used for strep throat won’t work on pneumonia.
Antibiotics are not designed to kill viruses. Only time and your body’s natural defenses can cure a viral infection. For some kinds of viral infections, an antiviral medication can help reduce the duration of the infection.
Even though things like sore throats, earaches, and coughs can be caused by either a viral or a bacterial infection, it is important to figure out which one it is before prescribing an antibiotic.
Trying to treat a virus with an antibiotic is like trying to drive in a nail with a screwdriver. Not only does it not work, but you can do more harm than good. Overusing antibiotics makes them less effective as bacteria become more resistant. Also, antibiotics kill a lot of good bacteria in your body, meaning that you will feel cruddier for longer.
So before you ask for an antibiotic, make sure you are using the right tool for the job.