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Antibiotics may make fighting flu harder

Drugs hit beneficial bacteria that keep immune system alert

4:22pm, March 14, 2011

Taking antibiotics when they aren’t necessary could make the flu or other viral infections worse, a new study suggests.

Mice on antibiotics can’t fight the flu as well as mice that haven’t taken the drugs, say researchers from Yale. Antibiotics quash the immune system’s infection-fighting power by killing friendly bacteria living in the intestines, the researchers report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These friendly, or “commensal,” bacteria help defend against viruses by keeping the immune system on alert for viral invaders, the team discovered.

“There’s a lot of beneficial effects of having commensal bacteria,” says Akiko Iwasaki, a Yale immunologist who led the study. “This is one that was unexpected, but makes sense.”

Scientists knew that friendly bacteria in the intestines could help stop disease-causing bacteria from setting up shop in the gut.

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