antibioticsHealth experts have been warning about the overuse of antibiotics in the United States for a long time now—even being prescribed to treat viral infections—and we are finally starting to see the evidence of it.   Superbugs, of course, have become a real thing, and now the same health experts advise that we need to be better at controlling and restricting antibiotics.

One family physician argues that new screening methods—to detect the need for antibiotics—could provide such a benefit to all patients.  Quinnipiac University School of Medicine chair of family medicine, Dr. Howard Selinger notes, “It would reduce unnecessary antibiotic use — which, if it continues unchecked, will threaten entire populations of individuals because of growing antibiotic resistance.”

Furthermore, he also notes that a simple and accessible blood test like this “would also have the advantage of helping patients avoid potentially dangerous and harmful antibiotic side effects.”

And now health officials are quick to urge doctors to refrain from prescribing such antibiotics for anything other than a major bacterial infection. This is opposed to, of course, the widespread prescribing of these drugs for just about anything, a common practice over the past decade or two.

Of course, there is still really no way of knowing if a sore throat, ear infection or other common malady is the result of a viral or bacterial infection.

In addition, study author Dr. Timothy Sweeney comments, “A lot of times you can’t really tell what kind of infection someone has.”  Sweeney, who is also a Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation, and Infection engineering research associate, goes on to say, “If someone comes into the clinic, a bacterial or a viral infection often look exactly the same. We wondered whether we could exploit that difference to improve the diagnosis of bacterial or viral infections.”

Selinger also says that he is hopeful this study eventually yields a quick, blood-based test that can be accessible for every patient.

Finally, Selinger notes, “For someone with an infectious disease, the ability to distinguish between a viral and a bacterial cause would be game-changing. In the primary care setting, a point-of-care outpatient test of this nature would enable the clinician to educate their patient with certainty about the time course and severity of symptoms associated with their illness.”

This study has been funded, in part, by the US National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.