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I've seen this claim on Facebook a few times recently (it has 116k shares right now):

I was just reminded of a TIP for avoiding the flu when I worked in the hospitals many years ago. Swab inside of each nostril with Triple Antibiotic cream or gel before leaving your home. (Most germs enter the system through breathing.) I used this tip when my son was a baby and immune deficient and they use it in our assisted living communities during flu season. Just had to share!

Is there any validity to this claim? My initial thought is that flu is viral, meaning an antibiotic ointment wouldn't have any effect.

  • yeah, the antibiotic cream will have no effect on the viral infections, or any infection entering through other places. – Himarm Feb 16 '15 at 14:22
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    @Himarm don't be so certain. The cream could create a physical barrier or something. I am looking forward to a good response on this since such claims are pervasive. – JasonR Feb 16 '15 at 14:52
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    "A common complication of influenza is secondary bacterial infection ..." – ChrisW Feb 16 '15 at 15:29
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    @user19555 Antibiotic ointment is not effective against viruses, and even if it was, very little of the air you breath would come into contact with the ointment. If you plug your nostrils entirely with the ointment, that would create a physical barrier through the nose, but would probably increase the risk of infection by forcing you to breathe through the mouth (bypassing the natural protections of the nose (warming, humidification, trapping particles in nasal secretions)) – Johnny Feb 16 '15 at 19:48
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    A common practice used to be to put butter onto burns. That doesn't mean it does what the people doing it seem to think it does. – PoloHoleSet Jan 10 '17 at 14:25
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There's nothing about the specifically antibiotic properties of the ointment that would give any preventative effect against influenza.

Flus are caused by viruses. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Even if an ointment would be effective in killing airborne pathogens when applied to nasal passages, a triple-antibiotic would be useful in fighting, say, a sinus infection, not the flu.

Flu Treatment: Should You Use Antibiotics or Not? - WebMD

  • @sumelic - so you seem to think I need to prove a negative? Since there is no explanation for how something like that WOULD work, pointing out that the specific characteristic of an antibiotic cream - it kills bacteria - has no efficacy against the pathogen that causes flu - virus - is about all you can do. That last paragraph was merely responding to a comment in the original question, and pointing out that the mechanism suggested would be present in any ointment, not just antibiotic ointment. Again, since there is no specific mechanism detailed, I can't get more detailed debunking it. – PoloHoleSet Jan 11 '17 at 19:47
  • @sumelic - The OP's initial thoughts are correct, so I'm not sure what, beyond confirming it, is needed. If he/she is right, then they are right. – PoloHoleSet Jan 11 '17 at 19:53
  • What I think is needed in an answer is evidence that is somehow more convincing than the information that's already in the OP. The OP clearly already knows that "Flus are caused by viruses" and "Antibiotics kill bacteria"; otherwise the last sentence of the question wouldn't make any sense. – purposeful porpoise Jan 11 '17 at 20:03
  • Again, then you are asking to prove a negative. There's no reason why it would work, any more than dancing around a chalk circle with chicken entrails. And, yet, if I simply posted "does dancing around a chalk circle with chicken entrails prevent flu?" I doubt you'd sit there and demand more details on the many ways it does not if someone posted to the negative. Or maybe you would. Since it's not possible to list every reason why it wouldn't, since the list is infinite, that's really all that's possible or necessary unless there is a specific claim, with claimed mechanism, to evaluate. – PoloHoleSet Jan 11 '17 at 21:37
  • @sumelic - and, no, the second part is not a response to something implied in the question. The passage is specific that it is triple antibiotic ointment that prevents it, it does not state that any other kind will suffice. – PoloHoleSet Jan 11 '17 at 21:40

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