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JAMA Netw Open


Importance: Bacterial and viral causes of acute respiratory illness (ARI) are difficult to clinically distinguish, resulting in the inappropriate use of antibacterial therapy. The use of a host gene expression-based test that is able to discriminate bacterial from viral infection in less than 1 hour may improve care and antimicrobial stewardship.

Objective: To validate the host response bacterial/viral (HR-B/V) test and assess its ability to accurately differentiate bacterial from viral infection among patients with ARI.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective multicenter diagnostic study enrolled 755 children and adults with febrile ARI of 7 or fewer days' duration from 10 US emergency departments. Participants were enrolled from October 3, 2014, to September 1, 2019, followed by additional enrollment of patients with COVID-19 from March 20 to December 3, 2020. Clinical adjudication of enrolled participants identified 616 individuals as having bacterial or viral infection. The primary analysis cohort included 334 participants with high-confidence reference adjudications (based on adjudicator concordance and the presence of an identified pathogen confirmed by microbiological testing). A secondary analysis of the entire cohort of 616 participants included cases with low-confidence reference adjudications (based on adjudicator discordance or the absence of an identified pathogen in microbiological testing). Thirty-three participants with COVID-19 were included post hoc.

Interventions: The HR-B/V test quantified the expression of 45 host messenger RNAs in approximately 45 minutes to derive a probability of bacterial infection.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Performance characteristics for the HR-B/V test compared with clinical adjudication were reported as either bacterial or viral infection or categorized into 4 likelihood groups (viral very likely [probability score0.73]) and compared with procalcitonin measurement.

Results: Among 755 enrolled participants, the median age was 26 years (IQR, 16-52 years); 360 participants (47.7%) were female, and 395 (52.3%) were male. A total of 13 participants (1.7%) were American Indian, 13 (1.7%) were Asian, 368 (48.7%) were Black, 131 (17.4%) were Hispanic, 3 (0.4%) were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 297 (39.3%) were White, and 60 (7.9%) were of unspecified race and/or ethnicity. In the primary analysis involving 334 participants, the HR-B/V test had sensitivity of 89.8% (95% CI, 77.8%-96.2%), specificity of 82.1% (95% CI, 77.4%-86.6%), and a negative predictive value (NPV) of 97.9% (95% CI, 95.3%-99.1%) for bacterial infection. In comparison, the sensitivity of procalcitonin measurement was 28.6% (95% CI, 16.2%-40.9%; P < .001), the specificity was 87.0% (95% CI, 82.7%-90.7%; P = .006), and the NPV was 87.6% (95% CI, 85.5%-89.5%; P < .001). When stratified into likelihood groups, the HR-B/V test had an NPV of 98.9% (95% CI, 96.1%-100%) for bacterial infection in the viral very likely group and a positive predictive value of 63.4% (95% CI, 47.2%-77.9%) for bacterial infection in the bacterial very likely group. The HR-B/V test correctly identified 30 of 33 participants (90.9%) with acute COVID-19 as having a viral infection.

Conclusions and Relevance: In this study, the HR-B/V test accurately discriminated bacterial from viral infection among patients with febrile ARI and was superior to procalcitonin measurement. The findings suggest that an accurate point-of-need host response test with high NPV may offer an opportunity to improve antibiotic stewardship and patient outcomes.

Medical Subject Headings

Adult; Bacteria; Bacterial Infections; COVID-19; Child; Female; Fever; Gene Expression; Humans; Male; Procalcitonin; Virus Diseases

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