A simple on-the-spot blood test could tell viral infections from bacterial ones and prevent doctors from unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics. Far too often viral infections are treated with antibiotics, which in fact can not kill viruses.
But telling between a disease caused by viruses and a condition triggered by bacteria is not a simple task. The process can take up to several days with traditional testing methods.
Yet, a team at Duke University managed to develop a simple blood test that can tell from a single drop of blood the nature of a disease. Researchers now hope that their findings could be used to stymie antibiotic overuse.
In the U.S., about 71 million people visit their doctor with an infection to the respiratory tract i.e. flu, pneumonia, or bronchitis. Sadly, three out of four patients are given antibiotics though their condition has a viral origin.
This epidemic of antibiotic prescriptions has led to a public health crisis in many countries across the world. The practice gave birth to ‘superbugs,’ or a new generation of bacteria resistant to front-line antibiotics.
If a patient has a weak immune system, these superbugs can often spell their death sentence. So, doctors rush to prescribe antibiotics because traditional tests take too much time to tell the nature of the infection.
For example, when you have a sore throat, a test for Streptococcus usually takes more than 24 hours. This is the case for bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections of the respiratory tract. So, doctors apply a quick fix and indiscriminately give all patients antibiotics.
If pneumonia is in an advanced stage, however, you’ll be hospitalized and a series of tests will tell whether it was produced by a virus of bacteria. Usually, sputum samples are collected and laboratory tests can take up to three days.
But the new promising test would require a single drop of blood to tell almost instantly the nature of the infection. The developers explained that the test reads the patient’s immune response to tell between viral and bacterial infections.
For each type of microorganisms, the immune response is different. The test can detect which genes are switched on and which and switched off and read the specific pattern to provide a quick response.
Researchers noted that their blood test can analyze up to 25,000 genes at once. Additionally, it can tell how bad a condition is, and even can detect influenza before any symptoms emerge.
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