Researchers revealed that they are developing a method that allows a simple blood test to identify whether a respiratory infection is caused by a virus or bacteria, helping doctors to discern if a patient would benefit from antibiotic therapy or not, reported Web MD on Wednesday.
Once successful and adapted by health institutions, the researchers believe that the method could help decrease the overuse of antibiotics, which often leads to drug-resistant bacteria, making the treatment useless.
"Antibiotics treat bacteria, but they do not treat viruses," pointed lead author of the study, Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham. "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."
According to Time on Thursday, the test works on the premise that the human body has different reactions to viral and bacterial infection through the activation of different genes that help the body's immune system.
The blood test aims to analyze the genetic reaction of the person's body toward the infection-causing microbe, thereby distinguishing whether it's a virus or a bacteria that's causing the respiratory problem.
"Considering the huge vacuum and the void in helping doctors make decisions about antibiotic use, just about any kind of test is an improvement over what's currently available," said Tsalik.
Overall, the test that is being developed in its early stages is aimed at better matching the appropriate treatment for the infection that's causing the illness to avoid unnecessary medications.
Currently, the test that the researchers developed would require up to 10 hours before the results are revealed, but Tsalik believes that this could be reduced to less than an hour in order for the test to become a more staple routine in the health industry.
"What we're reporting now is by no means the end of the story," Tsalik said. "We are working diligently to translate the signatures we found to make them available in an hour or less using a simple approach that can be done at the patient's bedside or in an office-based lab."