Researchers at Duke Medicine have developed a test that could drastically cut down on the over-prescription of antibiotics. Using a blood sample, they can tell whether a person's respiratory illness is viral or bacterial.
"This test could nine times out of 10 tell you if this patient had a viral infection or if they did not," said Dr. Aimee Zaas of Duke Medicine.
While bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, viral infections like a cold cannot. The two kinds of illnesses are hard to distinguish, so Zaas' team focused on how the body's immune system reacts.
"This particular test identifies how the body's white blood cells responds to infection and actually looks for genes that are relatively specific to viral infection," Zaas said.
Using antibiotics when you don't need them is a big problem because the bacteria builds up a resistance to the drug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says last year 23,000 Americans died from resistant bacterial infections.
The Duke blood test still has to undergo more study and researchers want to make it faster. Right now, it takes 12 hours to get results. Doctors say it needs to be under an hour for it to be useful.
Federal health officials say at least 2 million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year.
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