Blood Test Could Tell Who Really Needs Antibiotics
It may soon be possible to take a blood test to see if antibiotics will actually do you any good if you’re sick.
Researchers at Duke University School of Medicine say they’re closer to developing a test that distinguishes between viral and bacterial respiratory infections. And that would help doctors determine when antibiotics will and will not work.
This test, which would be done right in the doctor’s office, could also help curb the overuse of antibiotics – a practice that has led to the development of bacteria that are resistant to drugs, known as "superbugs.”
Respiratory infections are one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor. And research has found that about three-quarters of patients’ prescriptions are for antibiotics, even though most have viral infections, which don’t respond to those drugs. Patients often demand antibiotics even if the illness appears to be a virus, and doctors often prescribe them in order to be "better safe than sorry.”
The Duke research team developed a test to distinguish viruses from bacterial infections by analyzing the workings of genes in the blood. The investigators tested it on 273 people with respiratory infections and 44 healthy people.
Overall, the test was found to be accurate 87 percent of the time in distinguishing between bacterial and viral infections, and infections caused by something else. This is better than the 78 percent accuracy rate of an existing test that analyzes inflammation linked to illness.
There is one major barrier, however; it now takes around 10 hours to analyze a person’s genes. But the research team says they are working to create a one-hour test.
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