Many patients go to the doctor with viral infections, but expect an antibiotic to be prescribed despite their only being effective against bacterial infections. Photo by Photology1971/Shutterstock
DURHAM, N.C., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Scientists at Duke University found differences in how the body reacts to viral and bacterial infections, which they said could help reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics.
Gene expression in patients differs depending on their infection, which scientists say can be used to determine whether antibiotics are the right course of treatment.
Three-quarters of respiratory infection patients are prescribed antibiotics, despite the drugs being ineffective against viruses -- which get better on their own. A clear diagnostic test could verify for both the patient and doctor if the drugs are worth taking, which the scientists said would eliminate expectations and pressure from patients to receive the drugs based on the expectation they cure everything.
"Antibiotics treat bacteria, but they do not treat viruses," Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University, told HealthDay. "That's why distinguishing between these various causes of illness is very important to get the right treatment to the right patient, and to offer a prognosis for how the patient is likely to do," Tsalik said.
After finding the genetic difference, scientists recruited 273 people with respiratory infections and 44 healthy people in a study, published in Science Translational Medicine, to determine the accuracy of the test.
The test was accurate with 87 percent of the participants at distinguishing between bacterial, viral and other infections. This, Tsalik said, is an improvement over the 78 percent accuracy rate of a test that measures inflammation he said could reduce antibiotic use by 40 to 50 percent if it were used.
Further research will be done using the test with people of varying ages and ethnicities, as well as if other tests could be used for infection detection.