Soon, You May Need to Take a Breathalyzer Test Before Taking Antibiotics
New gadget fights antibiotic resistance by allowing docs to determine the true source of your illness
Breathing into a tube while a machine analyzes whether or not you're telling the truth isn't anyone's idea of a good time, but Chinese researchers have come up with a new use for the breathalyzer test-and this one could provide major health benefits.
In a new study published in the Journal of Breath Research, scientists announced the development of a breath test for bacterial infections. All patients need to do is breathe into a tube and the machine senses the presence of common bacterial infections, like bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis. But this doesn't just allow for more accurate diagnoses. The whole point of the new gadget is to help doctors be more precise with treatments, specifically in prescribing antibiotics.
"To confirm whether patients have a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, doctors currently have to take a number of different samples (blood and sputum), and even chest x-rays in the case of pneumonia," explained Kejing Ying, who is coordinating the work and is based at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine. Now, he added, all they have to do is have the person breathe into a small machine.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the top health crises facing the world today, according to a joint statement by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. And one of the major driving forces of antibiotic resistance is when patients ask for-and doctors prescribe-powerful medications for viral illnesses. Not only do antibiotics have no effect on viruses like the common cold, influenza, stomach flu, and ear infections, but they make the drugs less potent overall.
The most recent CDC data shows more than two million people are infected by drug-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die of their infections in the U.S. alone.
This is where the new bacteria breathalyzer test comes in. By testing people to make sure the source of their infection is truly bacterial, and of what type, doctors can make sure they're only prescribing antibiotics when they are most necessary and can do the most good. (Do You *Actually* Need Antibiotics? A Potential New Blood Test Could Tell.)