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August 31st: Potential new test to detect bacterial from viral infections

Scientists have identified two genes that are switched on only when a child is suffering from a bacterial infection. This could allow doctors to quickly distinguish between a viral or bacterial illness, and identify early cases of potentially deadly infections.

This would enable conditions such as meningitis, septicaemia or pneumonia - which are children with viral infections being unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria. This would help combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 8th Aug 2016 the scientists studied 240 children with an average age of 19 months, who arrived at hospitals with fever across the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and the USA.

Dr Jethro Herberg, a co-author of the research said "We are facing a growing threat from antibiotic resistant bacteria. A large proportion of antibiotic use is driven by our inability to reliably identify the small number of children with bacterial infection from the much larger number with viral infection, who do not need antibiotics. Fear of missing life-threatening infections like meningitis and septicaemia result in doctors often prescribing antibiotics and undertaking investigations such as lumber punctures just to be safe. A rapid test based on the two genes we have identified could transform paediatric practice, and allow us to use antibiotics only on those children who actually have a bacterial infection."