SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Researchers discover new method to find cause of fever

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published findings on Monday regarding a new test method to determine if fevers in children are being caused by bacterial or viral infections.

The researchers used the activity of genes in a blood sample to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections. They focused on genes in white blood cells and found the results to be 90 percent effective, which is better than the usual 70 percent of the normal diagnostic test.

"It's a common problem that children develop a fever without any apparent cause," Gregory Storch, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children's Hospital, said. "Some of these kids have serious bacterial infections that can be life threatening, but the largest number have viral infections. The trouble is, from a practical standpoint, it's hard to know which is which."

The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, involved 30 children from the ages of two months to three years who had fevers above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. These children displayed no other indicating symptoms, such as a cough or diarrhea.

The scientists believed that white blood cells would respond differently to viruses than to bacteria. Using microarray technology, the scientists were able to easily distinguish between bacterial and viral infections based on distinctive gene patterns.

"In the kids with a virus and a fever, many genes were very active, compared with kids who had viruses and no fever, whose genes were quiet," Storch said. "The microarray basically tells us how a patient is reading the infection. The very active genes tell us that an infection is making a patient sick, while quiet genes tell us either there's no infection or maybe a bacterium or virus is there, but it's not causing fever or illness."