Better Ways of Diagnosing Viral Infections

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Written by Alyssa Clark Tired of taking off work and waiting 45 minutes in the waiting room, just to hear that you have cold, or another type of viral...

Written by Alyssa Clark


Tired of taking off work and waiting 45 minutes in the waiting room, just to hear that you have cold, or another type of viral infection? Duke University researchers are hard at work to help make sure that patients are being diagnosed correctly, the first time they come in for an office visit.

If a virus truly is the culprit, we all know that some antibiotics will be ineffective and still can be outrageously expensive depending on or if one has insurance. Researchers at Duke University are currently developing a blood test to more easily tell whether a respiratory illness is due to a virus and not a bacterial infection; this more specific understanding of what is plaguing a patient will help cut down on the over-usage of antibiotics, and the speed of arriving at the correct diagnosis.

Essentially working through a fingerprinting system of your immune system, researchers and future physicians alike will be able to see firsthand how our bodies are responding to the infecting agent. This is a huge difference than the practice that is done today— providing a concrete alternative in opposition to a doctor’s “guessing game” as some may call it. If this technology and practice produces the kind of success that researchers are currently predicting, this kind of system could help the next flu outbreak or mysterious MERS virus pandemic which has erupted in the Middle East.

Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, Duke’s genomic medicine chief, calls the new technology “quite powerful” and a “possible game-changer”. He is currently leading a team that conducted a study involving 102 people proving that this kind of technology can work.

Doctors around the world struggle with this guesstimating procedure of diagnosing viruses, using time-of-year factors and other public health concerns at the time to help direct their diagnoses, but most of the time guesstimating just simply doesn’t get the job done. This kind of advancement in giving doctors a better resource will not only help them in their efficiency and ability to give an effective diagnosis, but it will allow patients to rest-assured that they are being treated properly and effectively as well.

"This is something we struggle with every day," said Dr. Octavio Ramilo, infectious disease chief at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who wasn't involved in the new study. Particularly with children, a respiratory virus and a bacterial infection "in the beginning look completely alike," he added.

Trying to combat the almost inherent problems that come with diagnosing viral infections, doctors and researchers seriously have their work cut out for them. Using genomic fingerprints will hopefully be able to distinguish a flu strain from another common virus, and the Duke team is currently analyzing dormitories in hopes of learning how to inhibit and contain the possibilities of outbreaks of the flu or other diseases of that nature for the near future.


About the Author

Alyssa Clark is the Editor of Healthcare Global


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