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Test can distinguish viral from bacterial infections

A blood test that can distinguish whether a suspected lower respiratory tract infection is caused by bacteria or a virus may help GPs prescribe antibiotics to those who really need them.

Researchers in Switzerland have developed a sensitive assay for measuring procalcitron ­ serum concentrations of which are raised in bacterial infections ­ that can be used to determine whether or not antibiotics should be given.

The test substantially reduced antibiotic use in 243 patients who presented with suspected lower respiratory tract infections and withholding antibiotics was safe and did not affect clinical outcome.

The cost of antibiotic prescriptions was reduced by 52 per cent per patient, a report in The Lancet said.

The Specialist Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance is reviewing antibiotic prescribing after the University of Aberdeen reported that the drive to cut antibiotic prescribing had gone too far.

Excess winter deaths from pneumonia increased from 20.4 per 100,000 to 30.7 between 1995/6 and 1999/ 2000 but antibiotic prescriptions fell 30 per cent.

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