20-Minute Blood Test Can Determine A Patient's Need For Antibiotics, Reduce Death Rates

Dawn Papple

A simple 20-minute blood test has been created and tested that will help doctors figure out if a patient's infection requires antibiotics. With the recent announcement of a risk of an antibiotic apocalypse looming, a test like this offers doctors the support they might need in order to reassure patients that an infection doesn't warrant antibiotics.

England's chief medical officer said this week that doctors often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when sick patients or the parents of sick children demand antibiotics for what the doctor believes to be a viral infection. As previously reported, Professor Dame Sally Davies suggested that the use of a rapid detection blood test for bacterial infections could help strengthen doctors' resolve in refusing to prescribe antibiotics when they aren't useful.

Procalcitonin tests have been around for about a decade and the quick blood test idea isn't new, but a recent international review that examined data from 6,700 people discovered that these fast blood tests actually do reduce death rates, drug interactions, and unwarranted antibiotic use. Bacterial infections cause a higher than normal level of procalcitonin in the blood. Viral infections and non-infectious causes of symptoms don't. Testing for this substance can give doctors a reliable way to determine if the patient is suffering from a bacterial infection and requires antibiotics, according to a report published in the Mercury.

"Every year, 2.5 million people around the world die from respiratory infections and the number of presentations to hospitals with what's referred to as respiratory symptoms is phenomenal," Monash University's Professor Yahya Shehabi, co-author of the research study, explained.

Meanwhile, drug-resistant infections will kill an estimated 10 million people each year by 2050 if the issue of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not addressed properly, the Guardian reported. A rapid detection test for bacterial infections is absolutely part of the long term plan for reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Reducing antibiotic use with this rapid testing for bacterial infections should not cause any additional risks to patients. In fact, the authors of the review reported a "significantly lower mortality associated with procalcitonin-guided therapy."

Professor Shehabi says that three-quarters of all antibiotic doses are prescribed for acute respiratory illnesses, even though most acute respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses. He says this new information should change clinical practice. The rapid test for bacterial infections should become a standard practice before prescribing antibiotics, he says.

[Featured Image by Narongrit Lokoolprakit/Shutterstock]