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Eat Your Heart Out Malthus
Apocalypse (Not) Now, Antibiotics Edition

Sorry, Malthusians, but it looks like we keep getting closer to avoiding the antibiotic apocalypse. The BBC reports on a new blood test that could cut down on antibiotic overuse. Doctors sometimes wrongly give patients antibiotics because they aren’t sure whether the patient’s infection was caused by a virus or bacteria. Israeli scientists have now created a test that can determine “within two hours” whether an infection is viral or bacterial. More:

Analyzing blood samples of more than 300 patients who were suspected of having an infection, they found it could correctly detect a virus or a bacterial infection in the majority of cases.

Eran Eden, of MeMed said: “The test is accurate. For most patients you can tell whether the infection was caused by bacteria or a virus within two hours.

“It is not perfect and it does not replace a physician’s judgement, but it is better than many of the routine tests used in practice today.”

Anything that helps reduce the overuse of antibiotics is very good news indeed. Such overuse, in agriculture as well as medicine, produced a phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance, in which bacteria build up defenses against existing antibiotics so that we are left defenseless against them. The dangers of a post-antibiotic world have haunted health experts for a while now, but the human race is once again doing what it does best: adapting and innovating its way out of the problem. On the one hand, restaurant chains are increasingly cutting back on selling meat from animals raised on medically important antibiotics. On the other, scientists are finding ways to create new antibiotics.

This new test is only the latest creation that could help us eliminate antibiotic overuse before it eliminates us. If these and other developments pan out, Malthusians with grim beliefs about the antibiotic apocalypse that awaited us will once again be wrong—while those optimistic about the human ability to outwit catastrophe will once again be smiling.

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  • jeburke

    “Israeli scientists…” No word yet on whether academic groups plan to ban them from US campuses or whether the boycott & divest crowd will demand that docs shun the new test.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Docs will buy and recommend whatever they like best and whatever they feel best protects their practices.

  • Andrew Allison

    I strongly suspect that doctors giving their patients antibiotics rather than argue with them is a bigger problem than giving patients antibiotics because they aren’t sure whether the patient’s infection was caused by a virus or bacteria. Other causes which need to be addressed at

    • Boritz

      I believe you are right and the solution is a $150/tablet placebo not covered by insurance. (The efficacy of a placebo is enhanced by cost).

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