In an attempt to reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics, researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a tool that physicians can use to distinguish between a bacterial or viral infection in a patient that is suffering from an infection. Antibiotics are useless in treating viral infections; sadly, bacterial resistance is stimulated by the indiscriminate and often unnecessary use of antibiotics. Soon, it is hoped that these rapid tests will be available to ascertain if antibiotics are warranted for a particular patient’s infection.
The researchers identified 11 genetic markers in blood that accurately distinguished between viral and bacterial infections.
For example, It is extremely difficult to interpret what’s causing a respiratory tract infection, especially in very ill patients who come to the hospital with a high fever, cough, shortness of breath, and other concerning symptoms. It would be helpful to know if the cause is viral or bacterial. It would also be extremely useful in cases of meningitis and fevers of unknown origin.
To put this new method to the test, a group of 94 adults hospitalized with lower respiratory tract infections was recruited. The team gathered clinical data, took blood from each patient, and conducted a battery of microbiologic tests to determine which individuals had a bacterial infection (41 patients) and which had a non-bacterial or viral infection (53 patients). The researchers at the University of Rochester then used complex genetic and statistical analysis to pinpoint markers in the blood that correctly classified the patients with bacterial infections 80 to 90 percent of the time.
“Our genes react differently to a virus than they do to bacteria,” said Thomas Mariani, a member of the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center (RPRC). “Rather than trying to detect the specific organism that’s making an individual sick, we’re using genetic data to help us determine what’s affecting the patient and when an antibiotic is appropriate or not.”
Ann Falsey, co-director of the RPRC, and Mariani say that the main limitation of their study is the small sample size and that the genetic classifiers selected from the study population may not prove to be universal to all patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year in the United States. The use and over-use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world.
This new test, which is still under development, will help prevent the needless use of antibiotics for viral infections, and thus reduce the chance of creating more drug-resistant bacteria in the future.
Jay Hardy CLS, SM (NRCM)