Researchers are closer to developing a blood test which may be able to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections in turn knowing when antibiotics will be unsuccessful. If completed, this blood test will be able to be conducted in a doctor’s office and the researchers are hopeful that it will help eliminate the overuse of antibiotics.
Lead author, Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, said, “Antibiotics treat bacteria, but they do not treat viruses. That’s why distinguishing between these various causes of illness is very important to get the right treatment to the right patient, and to offer a prognosis for how the patient is likely to do.”
Respiratory infections are common reason for doctor’s visit and yet nearly one-third of these patients receive antibiotics even though the underlying cause is viral which does not require antibiotics and will clear up on its own.
Many patients demand antibiotics and doctor’s will often prescribe them as a “better safe than sorry” approach. Unfortunately, not only is this unnecessary but it can have harmful effects including antibiotic resistance.
The blood test is not currently ready but when it does become developed it will greatly improve health care as doctor’s will no longer have to play a guessing game of whether or not an illness is bacterial or viral.
For the study, researchers tested the potential blood test on 273 people with respiratory infections and 44 healthy individuals. The test was accurate 87 percent of the time. The current test only has an 78 percent accuracy rate. Tsalik added, “Even with that imperfect test, other studies showed that using it can reduce antibiotic use by about 40 to 50 percent compared to no testing at all.”
The new blood test looks at genes which turn off and on in a particular pattern in response to bacteria, a virus or another cause.
The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine.