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Quick tests may cut antibiotic use

January 29, 2007|From Times wire reports

Rapid flu tests can help doctors decide when patients need antibiotics and when they do not, researchers have reported.

Experts almost universally agree that antibiotics are overused in the U.S. and elsewhere and that this overuse has helped new, drug-resistant strains of bacteria to evolve. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, such as influenza, but bacterial and viral infection often cause very similar symptoms.

The new findings, published in the Jan. 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, might help persuade doctors to ease off on the antibiotics prescribed for patients in the hospital, they said.

"If they are ill enough to come into the hospital, if they have a fever or are elderly, almost all of those people receive an antibiotic," said Dr. Ann Falsey of Rochester General Hospital and the University of Rochester in New York. Her team reviewed the medical records of 166 Rochester hospital patients with documented influenza between 1999 and 2003.

They saw that 86 of the patients tested positive using the rapid test, which gives an answer within minutes, while the other 80 did not have the rapid test done or tested negative but were later found to have influenza.

Most of the patients were given antibiotics anyway. But just 86% of the patients who tested positive for flu got the drugs, compared with 99% whose flu was not diagnosed right away.

"At least some proportion of doctors is willing to stop antibiotics when patients have a documented viral infection," Falsey said.

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