Virus or Bacteria - your blood knows

Duke University Medical Center researchers are fine-tuning a test that can determine whether a respiratory illness is caused by infection from a virus or bacteria so that antibiotics can be more precisely prescribed.

The team of infectious disease and genomics experts has developed what they call gene signatures-patterns that reflect which of a patients genes are turned on or off - to indicate whether someone is fighting infections from a virus or bacteria .

The signatures were tested in an observational study - they were found to be 87% accurate in classifying more than 300 patients with flu virus, rhinovirus, several strep bacteria and other common infections, as well as showing when no infection was present.

With these findings, researches are a significant step closer to developing a rapid blood test that could be used in clinics to distinguish bacterial and viral infections and to guide appropriate treatment.

A respiratory infection is one of the most common reasons people come to the doctor. There's not an efficient or highly accurate way to determine whether the infection is bacterial or viral. About 2/3 of patients end up on antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection despite the fact that a majority have viral infections. There are risk of excess antibiotic use, both to the patient and to public health.

This technique is more accurate than other tests that look for the presence of specific microbes. More precise ways of distinguishing infections could not only reduce unnessary use of antibiotics, but also lead to more precise treatments of viruses.

Still, with current technology, measuring a persons gene expressions profile from blood could take as long as 10 hours. Study authors are currently working to create a one-hour test that could be used in clinics.
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