Tiny organisms in the child's nose can offer evidence to improve the diagnosis and treatment of severe pulmonary infections, research shows.
Experts have found that the composition of the microbial population of bacteria and viruses found in large numbers in the body has been altered in the nose of children with respiratory infections compared to healthy peers.
This difference predicted how long children had to spend in the hospital and helped discover those who would naturally recover, which could reduce the need for antibiotics.
Researchers say the results also explain why some children are more prone to developing infections than others and may be key to preventing serious lung infections.
Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs), including pneumonia and bronchiolitis, are the cause of death in children under the age of five in the world. Symptoms include short breath, weakness and fever.
Doctors from the University of Edinburgh worked with teams in the Netherlands to take samples of more than 150 children under six years of hospitalization with LRTI. They compared them with samples of 300 healthy children.
They found that the microbe in the back of the nose and throat is associated with the one in the lungs, which makes it easier to understand and diagnose infections.
Children with LRTI had a different profile of microbes – including the types and amounts of individual viral and bacterial organisms – compared to healthy children, experts have identified.
These profiles could identify 92% of children as healthy or sick in combination with factors such as the age of the child. This is true regardless of the symptoms the child had.
Experts say it interrupts with the traditional thinking that the symptoms predict whether the virus or bacteria cause the disease and whether they can influence the decision whether or not to use antibiotics.
The microbial profile also helped scientists predict the length of stay in the hospital, indicating the severity of the infection.
The study, which was funded by the Netherlands Scientific Research Organization, was published in the journal Lancet's respiratory medicine.
Professor Debby Bogaert, a Scottish Senior Clinician and Honorary Advisor to Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Medical Research Council of the University of Edinburgh, Research Investigative Center, said: "Lousy infections can be very serious in children and babies and are very common disturbing Our findings first show that the overall microbial community in the respiratory tract – rather than just one virus or bacteria – is a vital indicator of respiratory health. It could really affect how doctors diagnose LRTIs and use precious antibiotics to fight infections. "
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