A simple blood test could tell if antibiotics are the right solution

(Mirror Daily, United States) – Antibiotic resistance might see a new adversary, as a blood test could detect if an infection is bacterial or viral, a technology currently being developed at Duke University. It would mean another helping hand for the community, both patients and doctors themselves.

Overuse and over-prescription of antibiotics is causing around 2 million people to get ill every year, and causes thousands of deaths. This is due to doctors too easily resorting to powerful drugs instead of suggesting weaker but equally useful medication. Another problem is the abuse on the side of the patients, who demand antibiotics and misuse other over-the-counter drugs. The blame falls on both sides.

Diagnostics faces problems where an overwhelming three quarters of patients with a viral infection get treated for a bacterial infection, which implies antibiotics. There are currently no accurate tests to make the difference. That places numerous patients on strong medications that they do not necessarily need. Most often, viral infections can be cured just as well with some Tylenol, bed rest, and fluids. The common cold is among them.

Researchers from Duke University, however, are developing a technology where the doctors will be able to properly distinguish a respiratory bacterial infection from a viral infection through a simple blood test. The difference will be made by analyzing the gene signatures in the actual infections. According to senior author of the study, Dr. Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, they have been studying such a method for the past decade.

However, it was only in recent years when technology advanced so far that it can analyze up to 25,000 genes at the same time. This opened the door for their test.

The team conducted a trial on 300 patients who showed up at the hospital with a respiratory infection, the most common cause for a doctor’s visit. This is something especially true during flu season. The patients were infected with the aforementioned flu virus, rhinovirus (common cold), strep bacteria, and several others. According to the researchers, their test was accurate 87% of the time in detecting the correct nature of the infection.

That means that their blood test could provide an exceptional tool to be used by doctors when making a diagnosis. If it’s bacterial, then prescribing antibiotics would be the answer. If it’s viral, however, medical health professionals would know that there is no need to resort to such strong drugs. Thus, it would cap the ability of ‘superbugs’ to develop a resistance to antibiotics due to overexposure.

Currently, it takes up to 10 hours for the test to provide the results. However, the researchers hope that in the next 5 to 10 years, it would take just one hour and the method will have an 100% accuracy. It will cut the risk of antibiotic misuse, eliminate potential side effects, and hopefully help in the fight against over-prescription of strong medication.

Image source: modvive.com