July 11 (UPI) — A blood test may cut back on needless antibiotic prescriptions for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease a new study says.

The number of COPD patients who received antibiotics prescriptions fell by 20 percent after taking the finger-prick blood test to measure their C-reactive protein levels, according to research published Thursday in New England Journal of Medicine.

More than 11 million people in the United States are living with COPD, according to the American Lung Association.

“This is a patient population that is often considered to be at high risk from not receiving antibiotics, but we were able to achieve a reduction in antibiotic use that is about twice the magnitude of that achieved by most other antimicrobial stewardship interventions, and demonstrate that this approach was safe,” Nick Francis, a researcher from the Cardiff University School of Medicine and study author, said in a news release.

The level of C-reactive protein in the blood is an indication of the inflammation in the blood caused by a serious infection. Antibiotics don’t do much to help people having a COPD flare-up with low C-reactive protein levels, the researchers say.

Overprescribing of antibiotics can lead to resistance of the drug, killing 23,000 people in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a really important study which provides clear evidence that a simple biomarker blood test carried out in general practitioner surgeries on people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease experiencing flare-ups, has the potential to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics, without adversely affecting recovery from these flare-ups. This, in turn, helps tackle the wider global health hazards of antimicrobial resistance,” said Hywel Williams, a researcher at the National Institute for Health Research.

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