'Taking antibiotics at the first signs of illness can increase the chances of mild flu turning deadly, a study has shown.
Bacteria in the gut helps prime the immune system to respond to early signs of viruses invading the lungs and suppress the infection, researchers, led by the Francis Crick Institute in London, found.
Tests in mice infected with influenza found they were three times more likely to die after receiving a course of antibiotics as those left to fight the illness alone.
This was “further evidence that antibiotics should not be taken or prescribed lightly” the researchers said.
Health systems around the world are grappling with the rising threat of antibiotic resistance which could return medicine to the “dark ages” and make simple cuts deadly.
Inappropriate use of the drugs, often given for viral infections where they are ineffective or to help fatten up livestock, wipes out beneficial and harmful bacteria and increases the pressure for the bugs to adapt.
This is leading to untreatable infections like “super-gonorrhoea” which can even withstand drugs held back as a last resort.
Gut bacteria ensure that antiviral genes in the lung lining stay active and are ready to react as a first line of defence when flu emerges, the researchers found.
The cells lining the lung "are the only place that the virus can multiply, so they are the key battleground in the fight against flu,” they reported in the journal, Cell Reports.
They added: “Gut bacteria send a signal that keeps the cells lining the lung prepared, preventing the virus from multiplying so quickly.”'
Read more: Antibiotics increase chances of mild flu turning deadly, study suggests
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