January 26, 2016 7:46 pm
Updated: January 26, 2016 9:28 pm

A simple blood test could diagnose you while you wait

Researchers believe more precise ways of distinguishing infections could not only reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics, but also lead to more precise treatments of viruses.

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A group of U.S. researchers is developing a rapid blood test that will diagnose you while you’re in a doctor’s waiting room.

More than convenience, though, they say it can prevent unnecessary treatment with drugs you don’t need.

Coughs, sore throats and runny noses are among the most common reasons people see their family doctors. But that could mean anything from a cold or flu to laryngitis or pneumonia — a massive difference in the seriousness of your condition and the kind of treatment you’ll need.

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It can take 10 hours for a definitive answer from a lab. Meanwhile, you’re left waiting or taking antibiotics you may not need.

That’s a big problem: Bad reactions to antibiotics are one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits, says Duke University’s Ephraim L. Tsalik, a lead author of the blood test study described in the January 20 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

READ MORE: Effort to curb overuse of antibiotics in cold, flu season

Even if they work the way they’re supposed to, they can disrupt the delicate balance of good bacteria in your body.

“Particularly for young patients, for infants … antibiotics can have lasting implications on health,” Tsalik said.

It can also exacerbate the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria that threaten public health. Drug-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

READ MORE: New ‘alarming’ superbug gene in Canada means antibiotic effectiveness is declining: officials

“It’s led to a lot of alarm in the global community, concerns that we may end up in a pre-antibiotic era where people have infections that cannot be treated,” he said.

“In the hospital setting, we’re seeing that on a daily basis.”

How it would work

A patient arrives with possible symptoms like a runny nose and congestion, a cough or shortness of breath. In the waiting room, a nurse takes a few drops of the patient’s blood, puts it on a cartridge and loads it into a machine.

By the time the doctor’s ready to see you, they’ll already know what’s wrong with you, said the study’s co-author Christopher W. Woods, medicine professor and associate director of Duke’s genomics center.

But part of the over-treatment problem could just be that physicians write prescriptions to assuage patients’ concerns, even if the patient doesn’t need a prescription.

American College of Physicians President Wayne J. Riley suggests giving those patients a “symptomatic prescription pad” for over-the-counter or home remedies that might help.

The pad explains the patient has a viral infection, not a bacterial infection; that antibiotics are a bad idea; and that the patient should take fluids, nasal spray or an over-the-counter medication such as lozenges or acetaminophen instead.

The infographic below outlines the recommendation from The State of the World’s Antibiotics, 2015, released by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP).

The authors outlined antibiotic overuse and the spread of resistance.


With files from The Associated Press and Allison Vuchnich, Global News

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