Pinpointing the Cause of Coughs and Sneezes

July 30, 2015

Duke students are trying to help doctors find a faster way to pinpoint the cause of their patients’ coughs, sore throats and sniffles.

The goal is to better determine if and when to give antibiotics in order to stem the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, said senior Kelsey Sumner.

For ten weeks this summer, Sumner and fellow Duke student Christopher Hong teamed up with researchers at Duke Medicine to identify blood markers that could be used to tell whether what’s making someone sick is a bacteria, or a virus.

More than half of children who go to the doctor for a sore throat, ear infection, bronchitis or other respiratory illness leave with a prescription for antibiotics, even though the majority of these infections — more than 70% — turn out to be caused by viruses, which antibiotics can’t kill.

Sumner and Hong were among 40 students selected for a summer research program at Duke called Data+. They presented their work at the Data+ Final Symposium on July 23 in Gross Hall.

Read Robin Smith’s post on the Duke Research blog.

Learn about the role played by project mentor Ashlee Valente:

Data+ is sponsored by the Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Sciences Research Institute and Bass Connections. Additional funding was provided by the National Science Foundation via a grant to the departments of mathematics and statistical science.