FDA wants to stem antibiotic overuse, but diagnosis is remarkably hard

(credit: Sparky/Flickr)

SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND—Every day, doctors have to figure out if they should dole out antibiotics or not. The decision is not only crucial to each patient’s wellbeing, but to public health in general. Unnecessary antibiotic doses help fuel drug-resistant infections that threaten tens of thousands of lives each year. Yet the question of whether someone actually needs an antibiotic is surprisingly hard to answer, leaving many doctors to decide based on hunches.

Last Friday, Ars sat in on a workshop held by the US Food and Drug Administration aimed at helping researchers and biotech companies develop new diagnostic tests that could take some of the guesswork out of the process. The idea was to start a conversation, medical officer Steven Gitterman of the FDA told Ars.

So far, one clear takeaway is that these tests are both desperately needed and technically challenging. In some cases, companies and the FDA may have to lower their standards regarding what makes an accurate diagnostic.

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