In a recent study proving feasibility, researchers discovered a new testing tool that can quickly identify viral and bacterial infections for respiratory sickness. The test provided results within an hour.

When patients complain of coughing, runny nose, fever, and sneezing, doctors are sometimes baffled because they don’t have fundamental tools to identify the source of respiratory symptoms and guide appropriate treatments. The new device might finally be on its way. 

Ephraim Tsalik, associate professor in the medicine and molecular genetics department at Duke University School of Medicine, says, “This is an exciting process, we’ve been working on this for over a decade, it’s always been our goal to have a test that could produce results rapidly, while patients are at their doctor’s office. It’s important that the distinction can be made quickly to ensure that antibiotics are not inappropriately prescribed.” 

The researchers developed a gene expression technique that separates from present diagnostic methods, which concentrate to confirm the presence of particular pathogens. The traditional techniques are time-consuming and can only identify a pathogen as their primary target in the first place. 

Host gene expression looks for a distinct definite immune sign that is unique to the kind of infection the body is fighting. The immune system activates one set of genes while fighting bacterial infections and a different set of genes in response to viral infection.  

After the discovery of gene expression signatures for bacterial and viral infection, the team collaborated with Biofire Diagnostics, a company that specializes in molecular diagnostics to develop the first-of-its-kind test. 

In multisite research of more than 600 patients in hospital emergency departments who suffered from respiratory infections, the test perfectly identifies bacterial infections with 80% accuracy and viral infections with almost 87% accuracy. Whereas the current standard test has about only 69% accuracy. The new test provided results in less than an hour and the accuracy of test results was confirmed by two different methods. 

Additional Test 

“Acute respiratory illness is the most common reason for people to visit a doctor. Patients are often treated with antibiotics too often due to challenges in discriminating against the causes of illness, fueling antibiotic resistance. Our study shows that a rapid test to distinguish between these two sources of illness is possible and could improve clinical care” says Tsalik.  

Tsai also said additional tests are underway to authenticate this method in additional groups of patients. The researchers are also working to adapt the technology to provide more particular information on whether the virus causing the sickness is influenza or SARS-CoV-2.