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Antibiotics may speed up children's recovery from flu, surprising new results from GP research reveal.

Study leader Dr Anthony Harnden said his work might suggest a 'new paradigm', challenging the notion of a purely viral or purely bacterial infection.

His study of 134 children with confirmed flu, which he plans to submit to the BMJ, found children who were given antibiotics took two days to reach a 75 per cent recovery rate from fever ­ compared with four days for children who were not given antibiotics.

Related research found no benefits of antibiotics with other infections such as respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus.

Dr Harnden, senior lecturer in primary care at the University of Oxford and a GP in Wheatley, Oxfordshire, stressed GPs still prescribed 'excess antibiotics' for respiratory infections.

But for children's influenza GPs 'might have a lower threshold for considering secondary bacterial infection'.

Dr Harnden added: 'Our hypothesis might be that children with influenza are more likely to develop secondary bacterial infections. There is some evidence for this because in a flu season the incidence of meningococcal disease rises.

'The classical paradigm of a viral infection or bacterial infection may be wrong. It's a complex interaction between the specific virus and the invasion of bacteria.' He said GPs should think in terms of infections that responded to antibiotics or did not, rather than viral or bacterial.

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