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article imageBlood test can discriminate between viral and bacterial infection

By Karen Graham     Jul 7, 2016 in Health
An inexpensive blood test could one day tell a doctor whether an infection is bacterial or viral, potentially saving a person's life, as well as helping to prevent the unwarranted use of antibiotics.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California described the diagnostic test in the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine.
"A lot of times you can't really tell what kind of infection someone has," said lead author Timothy Sweeney, an engineering research associate with the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation, and Infection. This is especially true when an infection is in the early stages.
Sweeney and the research team also pointed out that “First we ask, ‘Is an infection present?’ This is because a patient can present with inflammation, a fever, or a high heart rate, but it may not be due to infection. Then we ask, If so, what kind?’”
The new diagnostic test works by identifying seven genes, whose activity, or expression, changes when someone has an infection, reports CTV News. Gene expression is the process by which cells extract information from genes and render it in the form of either proteins or RNA.
Because cells have the ability to express more or less of each molecule, a pattern of gene expression is created that changes in response to external influences, including bacterial infections. The seven-gene test is a vast improvement over earlier tests that look at the activity of hundreds of genes because it will be cheaper and much faster.
"Many diagnostics focus on trying to find bacteria in the bloodstream, but most infected people don't have bloodstream infections, meaning such tests aren't helpful," Sweeney told AFP, according to Newsmax.
Sweeney claims the new test is three-times better than the next-best similar test, procalcitonin at ruling out bacterial infections. "In contrast, our test can detect an infection anywhere in the body by 'reading the immune system,'" he added.
Senior author Purvesh Khatri, the assistant professor of medicine, said the idea for the test came from research published in 2015 that showed "a common response by the human immune system to multiple viruses that is distinct from that for bacterial infections."
It is imperative that the test can be proven work and to be cost-effective.This is because tests on the market today are so expensive that doctors find it is cheaper to prescribe antibiotics. "If we really want to make a difference, our test has to be more cost-effective than the drug itself," said Khatri.
More importantly, with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is all the more necessary that we don't use antibiotics indiscriminately. Drug-resistant bacteria are responsible for over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, while one out of three prescriptions for antibiotics written in the U.S. in totally unnecessary.
This interesting study, "Robust classification of bacterial and viral infections via integrated host gene expression diagnostics," was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on July 6, 2016.
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