New 15-Minute Blood Test Could Drastically Cut Overuse Of Antibiotics

The test can be completed while the patient's appointment is ongoing. RomanSo/Shutterstock

Antibiotics have been overused in both agriculture and human healthcare, and as a result, “superbugs” resistant to almost all common antibiotics have now emerged. If a clever solution to the problem isn’t found soon, this global health emergency will end up costing us millions of lives.

As scientists work hard at trying to break through the newly developed defenses of these microbes, a new standalone blood test has emerged that may see the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics drop off considerably.

The device is an incredibly cheap and straightforward laboratory on a chip – it takes just 15 minutes, and picks up on whether a patient is suffering from a viral or bacterial infection. If it’s the former, then no antibiotics will be given, as they often are when a technical examination like this isn’t made.

Its rapidity means that the test can be conducted in the presence of the patient. For this type of diagnosis, they no longer need their sample sent off to another medical facility for examination.

Going by the name FebriDx, this little gadget looks out for two different proteins in the blood. The first, myxovirus resistance A (MxA), shows up when there’s a viral infection. The other, C-reactive protein (CRP), appears when there’s a bacterial infection; its presence in significant quantities is a marker for inflammation in general.

Publishing their results in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, a team – led by Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center – outline how the device is not yet 100 percent accurate, but it goes a long way towards improving the precision of diagnoses.

When it came to bacterial samples, FebriDx tests had a 92 percent agreement rate with conventional infection detection methods, and an 84 percent agreement rate with regards to viral samples. That means that at this stage, the input of a medical expert is always necessary, even with the test available.

Regardless, the device has been described by parent company RPS Diagnostics as a “15-minute, single use, disposable, point-of-care diagnostic test” that’s “commercially ready”, which essentially means it could be available for common usage in the very near future, perhaps as early as 2018.

At the very least, FebriDx appears to be a very powerful augmentative tool for clinical practitioners. At best, this is a simple technique that could partly solve an enormously complex problem.

According to an official press release, acute upper respiratory tract infections are the “most common reason for oral antibiotic infections in the US”, and “30 to 50 percent of antibiotics used in the outpatient setting are inappropriate.” The implication here is that this type of misdiagnosis is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance, and that a FebriDx could effectively go a long way towards nipping it in the bud.

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