Blood test can identify infection and reduce use of antibiotics

A simple blood test could soon tell doctors within two hours whether a patient has a viral or bacterial infection, thereby cutting the need for antibiotics in many cases.

The World Health Organisation has said the overuse of antibiotics is leading to increased drugs resistance — they simply will not work — meaning simple infections could once again become killer diseases.

It emerged here in recent months that doctors, pharmacists, vets, and government departments were having to join forces in an effort to combat the overuse of antibiotics, with the growing danger of simple surgery becoming a deadly event because of increasing drug resistance.

Scientists in Israel, in collaboration with the company MeMed, believe they have now developed a diagnostic blood test which will determine whether a patient has an acute bacterial or viral infection. They said the aim of their research was not only to tackle antibiotic overuse but also under-use due to delayed or missed diagnosis, which is the case in 24%-40% of all bacterial infections and may result in prolonged disease and medical complications.

They enrolled more than 1,000 patients between August 2009 and November 2013 from two Israeli medical centres and found that bacteria and viruses trigger different protein pathways once they infect the body.

One, called TRAIL, dramatically increased in the blood of patients infected with a wide range of viruses, but decreased in bacterial infections. The team was able to develop an algorithm that “computationally integrates” TRAIL with other immune proteins to diagnose the cause of the infection with high accuracy.

Eran Eden of MeMed said: “Our scientists have figured out how to decode the actions of the immune system doing what it does best — detecting and responding to the precise cause of infection.”

According to MeMed, the test is approved for clinical use in the EU and in Israel and is in pilot distribution there, with commercial roll-out planned later this year.

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