Monday, November 12, 2012

Viral Testing in Children With Fever

This study attempts to address the question we've been asking ourselves since the dawn of antibiotics – does this child with a fever have a viral infection, or a bacterial infection?  Of course, in reality, we should be asking a more complicated question – does this child have a viral infection, or a bacterial infection for which the increased likelihood of positive outcome with antibiotics outweighs the harms of the antibiotics?  But, I digress.

One hypothesis that is bandied about in literature and practice is, if rapid viral testing were available in the Emergency Department, perhaps a positive viral test result would reduce the likelihood of antibiotic usage.  These folks from Washington University performed viral PCR for a host of common viruses on 75 children with fever without a source, 15 children with probable bacterial infections, and 115 afebrile children presenting for outpatient surgery.  The authors note the patients with bacterial infections were less likely to test positive for a virus – and suggest prospective trials might describe a strategy in which viral testing decreased antibiotic use.

In their cohort, 55% of children aged 2 to 12 months and 39% of those aged 13 to 24 months with no obvious source for fever received antibiotics.  This is irresponsible lunacy.  However, a much faster, cheaper way to decrease antibiotic use is:  to simply return from the abyss of antibiotic overuse to a land of rational practice.  

After all, 40% of the bacterial infections and 35% of the outpatient surgical patients tested positive for a virus – clearly indicating the presence of a virus has limited association with acute viral illness or absence of an acute bacterial infection.  More tests are not the answer – at least, certainly not this battery of PCR tests.

"Detection of Viruses in Young Children With Fever Without an Apparent Source"
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23129086

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