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Gene Testing Helps Sort Out Bacterial, Viral Infections

Results could speed up diagnosis, improve treatment decisions, study authors say
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A new genetic test that distinguishes between viral and bacterial infections could help fight antibiotic resistance and quickly detect new diseases, according to a new study.

The immune system responds differently when battling a viral or bacterial infection, and these differences are evident at the genetic level.

This new blood test detects a specific genetic signature that a person's immune system expresses in response to viruses, the Duke University Medical Center researchers said.

They assessed the test in 102 people and found that it was more than 90 percent accurate in distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections in people with respiratory illnesses, according to the study, which was published in the Sept. 18 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The findings move the test closer to clinical use, where it could help patients get quicker diagnoses and treatments, while reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics that don't work on viral infections, the researchers said.

"In instances such as pandemic flu or the corona virus that has erupted in the Middle East, it's extremely important to diagnose a viral illness far more accurately and speedier than can be done using traditional diagnostics," study co-senior author Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, director of genomic medicine and a professor of medicine, said in a Duke news release.

Current tests rely on evidence of the microbe in a patient's blood and require knowledge of that particular bug to detect it. The new test doesn't have those limitations and could be used to detect new diseases, including potential bioterrorism threats, according to the news release.

"This is important not only in viral pandemics where infection may be caused by unknown viruses but also in routine care where the decision to treat or not with antibiotics is paramount," study lead author Dr. Aimee Zaas, associate professor of infectious diseases and international health, said in the news release.

The researchers plan large studies and say they're trying to reduce the amount of time it takes to get test results. The test currently takes 12 hours.

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