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Gene behavior distinguishes viral from bacterial infections

New approach could gauge response to flu vaccine

10:59am, December 23, 2015
Flu virus and MRSA bacteria

CASING A CULPRIT  Certain gene behavior changes in people can reveal whether an infection is caused by a virus, such as the H1N1 influenza virus (left), or bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA (right). 

Coughs, fevers and green mucus can accompany an infection, but most of the time, doctors can only guess whether the culprit is bacterial or viral. A new study points out a way to identify the perp.

An infection changes the behavior of the afflicted person’s genes, and that host response differs depending on whether bacteria or a virus is doing the damage, scientists report in the Dec. 15 Immunity. This virus-bacteria distinction could ultimately help doctors quickly figure out what ails a person, and whether antibiotics, antiviral drugs or just chicken soup and sleep is the best treatment.

To find the viral fingerprints, computational immunologist Purvesh Khatri of Stanford University and colleagues combed through a wide variety of publicly available datasets that included

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