Dec 08, 2016 | Updated: 09:37 AM EST

New Blood Test Prevents Overusing Antibiotics

Jan 21, 2016 08:50 AM EST

A newly discovered blood testing method allows healthcare providers to determine if a patient with a respiratory illness is suffering from a viral or bacterial infection, as well as with other non-infectious diseases. This breakthrough aims to help prevent overusing antibiotics.

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Scientists from Duke Health created another way to find out the type of microorganisms invading on a patient's system. So instead of testing for every possible causative strain, the new test can reportedly detect changes in the patient's gene expression, discovering that both bacteria and viruses produce distinct immune responses. Researchers develop "gene signatures" that reveals activated and inactivated genes amid a specific infection.

Doctors are hoping that misdiagnosis and overuse of antibiotic drugs could be prevented through this technology. The overconsumption reportedly accounts for the increase of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are responsible for the 23,000 deaths in the United States every year.

According to Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, the most common complaint of patients is respiratory infection. About 75% of patients with colds, coughs and runny noses were given antibiotics, even though majority of them only suffer from a viral infection. He further warned that the more people take antibiotics, the higher the risk of exposure they have to develop resistance against infection.

Despite of its potential accuracy, one disadvantage of the current test is its delayed results, Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, senior author and assistant professor of medicine at Duke University and Durham Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, said. It has a turnaround time between 10 and 12 hours, which is not idealistic as prescriptions are usually given immediately.

However, he claimed that the research's current focus is on possibly shortening the turnaround time to less than an hour to make it more of a routine part of health care. Soon enough, this test could be a home-based kit where a sick person can undergo and determine whether there is a need to see the doctor or rest would suffice.

Other than respiratory illnesses, the breakthrough can allegedly detect other types of infection including fungus.

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