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New blood test could help in precise prescription of antibiotics

Researchers have  developed a simple blood test to distinguish between bacteria and viruses by analyzing the working of genes in the blood. A drop of blood would indicate if the patient required antibiotics or not.

Scientists at the Duke University found variations in how the body reacts to viral and bacterial infections, which could help in preventing unnecessary use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are widely misused around the world, which could lead to antibiotic resistance. About 75 percent of patients are prescribed bacteria-fighting antibiotics for viral respiratory infections such as pneumonia, colds and bronchitis. Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, assistant professor of Medicine at Duke University said that bacterial infections are ones that are treated with antibiotics, whereas viral infections, like the common cold, are typically treated with bed rest, fluids and Tylenol.

Researchers have found that the patient’s gene expression profiles could be used to identify them with flu, strep bacteria and other common infections with 87 percent accuracy. Scientists are also studying if these type of tests can detect other bacterial,viral and fungal infections. Senior author Geoffrey S.Ginsburg, MD, PhD, director of Duke’s Center for Applied Sciences said that this could not only reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics, but also lead to more precise treatment of viruses.

Though Ginsburg and his team have been studying gene signatures in respiratory infections for almost a decade, but only recently has technology allowed scientists to analyze a person’s genetic makeup, 25,000 genes at a time. Currently, the test takes about 10 hours, but the team is working to increase the accuracy to 100 percent and a way to make the results ready in an hour. Last year, the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (NICE) urged doctors to stop prescribing antibiotics for minor infections. The study has been published in the Science Translational Medicine.

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