New blood test could determine whether medicine is necessary

A new study by Duke University hopes to make the process of determining whether an infection is bacterial or viral more efficient, which could aid in deciding whether antibiotics are needed
By Jason Spencer | Jan 23, 2016
The side effects of medicine sometimes outweigh the benefits of feeling better faster. This could change though as a new blood test is in the works to determine whether or not antibiotics are needed.

According to Health Newsline, researchers at Duke University have been looking further into blood tests, particularly ones that can determine if an illness is bacterial or viral and whether medicine is necessary. Using only a few drops of blood, this test analyzes genes, distinguishing the cause of the illness and determining whether antibiotics should be used.

There is a particular focus on respiratory infections. Dr. Ephraim L. Tsalik, lead author of the study and emergency medicine provider at the Durham VA Medical Center, said that those were the types of infections they saw the most of. He also said that determining whether infections were bacterial or viral is difficult.

"About three-fourths of patients end up on antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection despite the fact that the majority have viral infections. There are risks to excess antibiotic use, both to the patient and to public health," said Tsalik.

Modern Readers reports that there is already a blood test that can determine whether infections are bacterial or viral, however, the new test in the works at Duke are more efficient. Current blood tests require that doctors collect microbes and grow them. This process takes up to three days, which may be too late for patients who need immediate treatment.

"Considering the huge vacuum and the void in helping doctors make decisions about antibiotic use, just about any kind of test is an improvement over what's currently available," said Tsalik.

This new form of testing still takes about ten hours, but researchers are hoping that with further study this time can be taken down to one hour.

"What we're reporting now is by no means the end of the story," said Tsalik. "We are working diligently to translate the signatures we found to make them available in an hour or less using a simple approach that can be done at the patient's bedside or in an office-based lab."

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