Researchers are using a group of proteins found in nasal mucus to diagnose viral or bacterial cold or flu infections. Photo by stevepb/PixaBay
Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers at Duke University have identified a group of proteins found in mucus that can accurately indicate viral infections.
The study identified proteins found in mucus from inflamed nasal and throat passages that had an 86 percent accuracy rate in confirming whether an infection is from the cold or flu virus.
"Every day, people are taking time off from work, going to emergency rooms, urgent care or their primary care doctors with symptoms of an upper respiratory infection," Dr. Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Applied Genomics & Precision Medicine, or DCAGPM, and senior author of the study, said in a press release. "Looking for these proteins could be a relatively easy and inexpensive way of learning if a person has a viral infection, and if not, whether the use of antibiotics is appropriate."
The study included 88 healthy adult participants with a common strain of cold or flu virus. Researchers found that participants who developed infections had a distinct set of 25 proteins in fluid samples.
"In the past, science has focused on identifying the pathogen someone is infected with in the blood or other sample," Thomas Burke, Ph.D., director of technology advancement and diagnostics at DCAGPM and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Our approach flips the paradigm of how we look for infection. Instead of looking for the pathogen, we study the individual's response to that pathogen and signature patterns in their genes, proteins, metabolites and other biomarkers."
There are not a lot of tools for health care providers to distinguish between a bacterial infection that would benefit from antibiotics and a viral infection that would not respond to antibiotics. The widespread use of antibiotics to treat upper respiratory infections that are viral may contribute to antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Analyzing proteins in mucus is a less invasive way to distinguish between a viral or bacterial infection.
"The protein targets offer a faster, more cost-effective model for rapid screening and diagnoses of viral infections," Dr. Christopher Woods, associated director of applied genomics at DCAGPM and senior author of the study, said in a press release. "If the data are verified, the model could be valuable in many circumstances, such as rural settings or developing countries with less convenient access to health care, or even as an airport screening tool during an outbreak of a particularly threatening strain of flu."
The study was published in EBioMedicine.