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Illustration of bacterial and viral pathogens in patient blood

New Test Accurately Distinguishes between Bacterial and Viral Infections

Providing results in 45 minutes, the new test could be used at the point of care to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use

A new test developed by researchers at Duke Health can distinguish between bacterial and viral respiratory infections better than procalcitonin, according to a recent study published in Critical Care Medicine. Providing results in about 45 minutes, the new test could be used at the point of care to help clinicians determine the cause of an infection, with the goal of reducing unnecessary antibiotic use.

The research team collaborated with BioFire Diagnostics, a molecular diagnostics company, to develop the test, called BioFire Film Array System. 

Instead of detecting pathogens, the BioFire System analyzes a patient’s immune response by detecting the presence of 45 gene transcripts. Because different genes are activated in response to different pathogens, the test can detect whether an infection is bacterial or viral.

The multicenter study included 623 samples from patients admitted to hospital emergency departments with respiratory infections, including bacterial infection, viral infection, coinfection, or noninfectious illness. The researchers compared results from the BioFire System with procalcitonin levels.

The new test had an accuracy of 80 percent for detecting bacterial infection, and almost 87 percent for viral infection, which was significantly better than the standard procalcitonin test, which had an accuracy of about 69 percent.

In a recent press release, the researchers said that further studies to validate the BioFire System in other patient groups are ongoing, and that they are working to improve the system to provide more specific results, such as the type of virus responsible for the infection, e.g., influenza vs SARS-CoV-2.