The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Get Smart campaign to warn against the dangers of antibiotic misuse.

Antibiotic Resistance: The Clues Are in Our Genes

Doctors are often faced with the challenge of treating children that have a fever without an apparent cause because fevers are a symptom of both bacterial and viral infections. As a precaution, many of these children are given antibiotics even though antibiotics are completely ineffective against viral infections. Furthermore, the over-prescribing or misuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, the emergence of bacterial strains that no longer respond to common antibacterials.

Our genes activity shows whether a fever is bacterial or viral

A recent study assessed the genetic profile of a cohort of sick children and showed that the activity of a patient’s genes can be used to distinguish between bacterial and viral fevers. This technique could prevent unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and slow the rise of antibiotic resistance. A study led by Dr. Gregory Storch at Washington University in St. Louis examined the genetic profile of 22 sick children using microarray technology, which examines the expression levels of thousands of genes simultaneously. By examining the activity of immune system genes, they found that the response of 18 genes was sufficient to predict the cause of infection 90% of the time. The immune system recognizes pathogens through white blood cells, and the researchers hypothesized that viruses and bacteria would trigger differing immune responses that could be identified by the genetic expression profile of the patient. Specifically, viral infections increase the expression of Inteferon (IFN) genes while bacterial infections increase the expression of Integrin genes, both of which play important roles in immune system function[1].

The future of microarray technology in assessing fever

The test isn’t ready for the clinic just yet because the current microarray technology analyzes 25,000 genes, making it too complex, time consuming and expensive to use in a doctor’s office. Developing a simplified version of the test that only analyzes the most critical genes will surely be of great interest to scientists, physicians and patients alike.


If you would like to learn more about better understanding our bodies using genetic testing, continue reading this related blog post: “Genetic testing can be used as a cost effective diagnostic tool for celiac disease”. If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, please follow us on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. Author: Antonia Borovina


[1]Storch GA, Crosby SD, Yu J, Hu X. Gene expression profiles in febrile children with defined viral and bacterial infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition. July 15, 2013.

Figure: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Get Smart” campaign to warn against the dangers of antibiotic misuse.

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