Healthcare News & Insights

2 new tests may refine antibiotic use in your hospital

Although there are tests to determine whether a patient needs antibiotics for an illness, they aren’t always precise. So patients may receive antibiotics they don’t need, which can lead to drug resistance. Two new tests may make it easier for your hospital to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use. 

ThinkstockPhotos-135552346They’ll help providers get to the bottom of whether bacteria is causing a patient’s illness – or what kind of bacteria is sickening the patient.

Bacteria or virus?

One test is being developed by researchers at Duke University Medicine.

As described in a press release, a team of infectious disease and genomics experts have created a process where they can look at a patient’s genes using a blood sample to see whether the body’s fighting infection from a virus or bacteria.

Patterns called gene signatures give off telltale signs these experts can use to determine the source of the illness.

During the study, patients with various respiratory illnesses received blood tests. Looking at the “signatures” in each sample, the team was able to tell around 87% of the time whether the patients had the flu, strep or other common illnesses, as well as whether they had any infection at all.

What makes this different from other tests is the specificity with which it determines what kind of illness a patient has. Because it examines the patient’s bodily response, it can more accurately distinguish between bacterial and viral infections. That means antibiotics can be prescribed more appropriately and accurately.

Even better, it means that other illnesses can be specifically isolated, and treatments can be found that work for them. This would be true for all sorts of infections – including those that don’t have traditional treatments, like RSV and the common cold virus.

Antibiotic selection

When bacteria are present, and antibiotics are necessary, providers must be careful they’re prescribing drugs that are appropriate for the patient’s condition. Using stronger drugs when an infection doesn’t warrant them can cause bacteria to develop immunities, making future strains harder to control.

Scientists from the University of California San Diego are working on a solution for this. According to a news release from Infection Control Today, they’ve created a new test to determine which kinds of antibiotics can best control certain bacteria so providers won’t have to play a guessing game when writing scripts.

The new rapid susceptibility test relies on a single cell from the patient. Typical antibiotic susceptibility tests are culture-based, which means it can take days to receive results. The single-celled approach is faster, and it doesn’t rely on having detailed knowledge about the bacteria causing the infection, or any of the genes that create resistance. It’s based solely on the appearance of cells.

Dying bacteria look different than living, growing bacteria. So once an antibiotic is tested on a small cell sample, researchers can evaluate its appearance to see if the antibiotic is effective in killing the bacteria.

Having this level of detailed knowledge can keep providers from giving patients antibiotics that are too strong for the type of infection they have.

In particular, the test has been successful with identifying different strains of MRSA and the types of antibiotics that are most effective for treating them. Researchers are currently looking at expanding the test for other types of bacteria.

What this means for you

These innovative tests could make your hospitals’ antibiotic stewardship efforts even more effective once they become more widespread.

Pinpointing whether antibiotics are needed – and whether lower-strength drugs can be used – will improve patients’ health. It even has the potential to make drug-resistant superbugs a thing of the past.

We’ll keep you posted on any further advancements.

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