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Distinguishing between viral, bacterial infections
August 10, 2017, 4:21 pm

The overuse, wrong dosage and unwarranted prescription of antibiotics have led to the emergence of antibiotic resistance, which has become one of the world’s most serious health threats.

While antibiotics help us fight bacterial infections, such as strep, some sinus and most ear infections, they are not effective and should not be used to treat infections caused by virus, such as colds, flu and most coughs and bronchitis. However, it is often difficult for physicians to confirm bacterial infections and they generally end up prescribing an antibiotic and inadvertently contributing to antibiotic resistance.

"It's 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," said Ann R. Falsey, M.D., lead author behind a new study conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

Scientists at URMC used complex genetic and statistical analysis to pinpoint 11 genetic markers in blood that accurately distinguish between viral and bacterial infections. The new test could help physicians confirm bacterial infections 80 to 90 percent of the time and help prescribe antibiotics only to patients who really need them, thereby avoiding giving them to individuals who could be having a viral infection and do not require antibiotics.

Our genes react differently to a virus than they do to bacteria and so the new tool uses genetic data to help determine what is affecting the patient and when an antibiotic is appropriate or not.

According to the US 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 of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world.

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