Working to stop ‘super bugs’

"Super Bugs."

Sounds like the newest summer blockbuster from the Marvel Comics franchise.

What it really is, is a threat to human health that Dr. Daniel Feinstein has worried about for years.

"I've been worrying since the day I started residency," he says. "We see it every single day: a bacterium that we can't treat or we have very limited options for treating."

With the rapid rise in the use of antibiotics to treat infections, bacteria have shown they can quickly adapt and mutate into a strain that is highly resistant to -- if not immune from -- the drugs we've developed to eliminate them.

We largely have ourselves to blame, as we demand our doctors match a symptom with a pill when we take our kids to the doctor's office.

"You get the pressure from the moms and dads of the pediatric population," admits Dr. Feinstein.

"I think we've all been in that situation where your child is sick and you're trying to do the best you can as a parent," says Chris Cook, himself a trained pharmacist. "You go in and you want action, you want something. The scariest thing for a parent, myself, is to hear, 'You've just got to work your way through this.'"

That is, often, the best course of action if the infection is viral. The problem for years has been determining if an infection -- an "insult," as Chris Cook calls it -- is viral or bacterial. That diagnosis is crucial and can be difficult, according to Dr. Feinstein.

Now, Cook's company is going a long way toward helping doctors like Feinstein find that out, in a hurry.

"In the past, the clinicians had to assume there was a bacterial insult so they automatically put someone on an antibiotic," Cook said. "But if we can distinguish when it is bacterial versus non-bacterial, they don't always have to prescribe antibiotics."

Cook's company, bioMerieux, is based in France and has a major operation in Durham. Their new, simple blood test, the VIDAS PCT, can tell the medical team if the infection they are dealing with is bacterial within an hour.

Cone Health, in Greensboro, where Dr. Feinstein works in the ICU, was one of the first to use the VIDAS PCT test have become national leaders in its use. That allows Cone physicians to act quickly in saving patents from falling into the kind of septic shock from an infection that is often deadly.

"Every hour in delay in antibiotics after someone's blood pressure drops and they're not reacting to fluids increases mortality 7.6 percent," notes Dr. Feinstein.

See how the VIDAS PCT works in this edition of the Buckley Report.