Health Team

Study examines viral vs. bacterial

Posted September 18, 2013
Updated September 20, 2013

Local doctors make new discoveries.

— Doctors may prescribe antibiotics when a patient complains of an upper respiratory infection, but if it turns out to be viral, the antibiotic won’t help. 

This is also an issue on the flipside. “If you presume someone has a viral infection and they have a bacterial infection, you need to act more quickly and you could’ve made a mistake,” said Dr. Aimee Zaas a specialist with the Infectious Diseases department of Medicine.

Zaas, along with researchers from Duke and the Durham VA Hospital, are also concerned about the increasing resistance to antibiotics.

“The CDC reported that over 23,000 deaths occur in the United States alone from anti-microbial resistant bacteria,” said Dr. Christopher Woods of Duke and the Durham VA Center.

Woods was also a part of a team that developed a possible answer to resistant bacteria. It is a test based on a patient’s genetic response to a viral attack.

This test was part of a Duke study published Wednesday in the journal of Science Translational Medicine.

The new test will look for changes in 30 genes involved in the immune response to a virus rather than just the viral bug in the blood stream. This test can be performed in a doctor’s office or emergency department.

The test was used on 102 people arriving at a hospital’s emergency department with a fever.

“It looks like about 90 percent accuracy is what we have measured in our current study,” said Woods. “We think we can actually perform better.”

The results are already better than rapid flu tests done in the office, and researchers believe they can eventually achieve the results within two hours.

The team says it’s a crucial step toward early intervention in a patient’s illness, and earlier and more effective tracking of pandemic flu.

The next step in research is to conduct the study on a larger population of patients in emergency departments and physician’s offices.


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