Antibiotics do not treat viruses but are only effective against bacterial infections. People with COVID-19 may receive antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Researchers are currently carrying out investigations to see if other drugs could be potential treatment options for COVID-19.

Here, we look at the role of antibiotics in COVID-19, the latest research into other potential medications, and the current treatment available for COVID-19.

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Antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of COVID-19, which the new coronavirus causes. Antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections, not viruses.

If people are receiving hospital treatment for COVID-19, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.

Are antibiotics being investigated as treatment options?

Azithromycin is an antibiotic that researchers are currently investigating as a potential treatment option for COVID-19. Azithromycin has anti-inflammatory effects, which may help reduce an overactive immune response to COVID-19.

Research has also found azithromycin to have positive effects against Zika and Ebola viruses in test tube experiments.

Azithromycin is also effective in preventing severe bacterial respiratory tract infections in children with viral infections.

Researchers are looking into the effects of the combination of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and azithromycin.

Research has found hydroxychloroquine to have anti-SARS-CoV activity in test tube experiments.

One small scale study looked at the effects of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin on people receiving hospital treatment for COVID-19 in France.

The results showed hydroxychloroquine significantly reduced the viral load or eliminated the coronavirus. The addition of azithromycin increased the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.

However, another study from the American College of Cardiology found that treatment with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin did not improve outcomes, and increased the risk of cardiac arrest. The study looked at 1,438 people receiving hospital treatment for COVID-19 in New York. All participants had similar age, race, and time of starting treatment.

Since then, the FDA has revoked the emergency use authorization for hydroxycholoroquine, so people and doctors should not use it to treat COVID-19 anymore.

Why do doctors prescribe antibiotics to those with COVID-19?

The new coronavirus causes a respiratory infection that can weaken the immune system. This impact can increase the risk of getting a bacterial infection, which the individual may find harder to fight off.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to people with COVID-19 to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia. Doctors may then use antibiotics as part of the treatment to fight the infection.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drugs for the specific treatment of COVID-19.

Current treatments depend on the severity of each case and focus on treating symptoms and complications of COVID-19.

For mild symptoms, people may be able to treat COVID-19 with home remedies. These can include:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated
  • fever and pain relief medication, such as acetaminophen
  • monitor symptoms, and contacting a doctor straight away if they worsen

Current treatment options for people hospitalized with COVID-19 can include:

  • intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • oxygen supply if people have difficulty breathing
  • treating any complications, such as pneumonia
  • antiviral drug remdesivir for emergency cases of COVID-19

Researchers are also looking into a range of existing drugs as potential treatments. These medications include:

  • anti-malarial drugs
  • drugs for autoimmune conditions
  • antiviral drugs that are effective for other viruses
  • convalescent plasma, using antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19
  • high doses of intravenous vitamin C

Further tests and trials will help to determine whether any of these options could be potential treatment options for COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms for COVID-19 can appear 2–14 days after exposure to the new coronavirus. Symptoms can include the following:

  • cough
  • fever or chills
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • body aches or muscle aches
  • headache
  • loss of smell
  • loss of taste
  • sore throat
  • blocked or runny nose
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

People should contact their doctor if they have severe symptoms or symptoms worsen. People will need to seek immediate medical attention if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • continual chest pain or pressure
  • new state of confusion
  • unable to stay awake or to waken
  • blue tinge to lips or face

People can call 911 and notify the operator that the person may have symptoms of COVID-19.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections and are not effective in treating viruses. One antibiotic, azithromycin, may be a potential treatment option. Researchers are currently studying the effects.

Although there have been reports of some positive effects from azithromycin, particularly alongside hydroxychloroquine, there have also been severe side effects. Researchers need further evidence to test the safety and effectiveness of these two drugs.

There are currently no FDA approved drugs for the specific treatment of COVID-19. Researchers are looking into the potential of existing drugs and antivirals, along with other treatment therapies, to treat COVID-19.

Current treatment focuses on symptom relief and treating complications. People may be able to treat mild symptoms at home.

If people have severe symptoms, they should contact their doctor straight away.