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Cellular 'Fingerprint' IDs Infectious Disease

Technique could help doctors diagnose flu, strep, staph, other illnesses

MONDAY, March 19, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- American researchers have found a way to use disease "fingerprints" to identify viruses and bacteria that cause common infections in children.

In some cases, tracking viruses or bacteria that cause illness can be difficult because they may not be present in the blood or other easily accessible areas of the body. To get around this problem, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Children's Medical Center Dallas and Baylor Institute for Immunology Research devised a new approach.

It involves analyzing telltale "fingerprints" that a disease leaves behind on cells involved in the body's immune response. Those clues can be used to create a composite sketch of the offending virus or bacteria.

The researchers tested this approach in 29 children with four common infections -- flu, staph, strep, and E. coli -- and were able to distinguish between the flu, strep and E. coli in 95 percent of cases. They were also able to distinguish between staph and E. coli with 85 percent accuracy.

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Blood.

"We are genetically programmed to respond differently to different infections. We have developed the tools to understand that," study lead author Dr. Octavio Ramilo, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.

"Infectious diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in the world. So we hope this eventually can be used not only to diagnose, but also to understand the prognosis and how the body is responding to therapy," Ramilo said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

SOURCE: UT Southwestern Medical Center, news release, March 13, 2007
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