A comparison of host response strategies to distinguish bacterial and viral infection.



Compare three host response strategies to distinguish bacterial and viral etiologies of acute respiratory illness (ARI).


In this observational cohort study, procalcitonin, a 3-protein panel (CRP, IP-10, TRAIL), and a host gene expression mRNA panel were measured in 286 subjects with ARI from four emergency departments. Multinomial logistic regression and leave-one-out cross validation were used to evaluate the protein and mRNA tests.


The mRNA panel performed better than alternative strategies to identify bacterial infection: AUC 0.93 vs. 0.83 for the protein panel and 0.84 for procalcitonin (P<0.02 for each comparison). This corresponded to a sensitivity and specificity of 92% and 83% for the mRNA panel, 81% and 73% for the protein panel, and 68% and 87% for procalcitonin, respectively. A model utilizing all three strategies was the same as mRNA alone. For the diagnosis of viral infection, the AUC was 0.93 for mRNA and 0.84 for the protein panel (p<0.05). This corresponded to a sensitivity and specificity of 89% and 82% for the mRNA panel, and 85% and 62% for the protein panel, respectively.


A gene expression signature was the most accurate host response strategy for classifying subjects with bacterial, viral, or non-infectious ARI.






Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Ross, Melissa, Ricardo Henao, Thomas W Burke, Emily R Ko, Micah T McClain, Geoffrey S Ginsburg, Christopher W Woods, Ephraim L Tsalik, et al. (2021). A comparison of host response strategies to distinguish bacterial and viral infection. PloS one, 16(12). p. e0261385. 10.1371/journal.pone.0261385 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24292.

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Ricardo Henao

Associate Professor in Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

Emily Ray Ko

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Clinical and translational research, COVID-19 therapeutics, clinical biomarkers for infectious disease.


Micah Thomas McClain

Associate Professor of Medicine

Geoffrey Steven Ginsburg

Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine

Dr. Geoffrey S. Ginsburg's research interests are in the development of novel paradigms for developing and translating genomic information into medical practice and the integration of personalized medicine into health care.


Christopher Wildrick Woods

Wolfgang Joklik Distinguished Professor of Global Health

1. Emerging Infections
2. Global Health
3. Epidemiology of infectious diseases
4. Clinical microbiology and diagnostics
5. Bioterrorism Preparedness
6. Surveillance for communicable diseases
7. Antimicrobial resistance


Ephraim Tsalik

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine

My research at Duke has focused on understanding the dynamic between host and pathogen so as to discover and develop host-response markers that can diagnose and predict health and disease.  This new and evolving approach to diagnosing illness has the potential to significantly impact individual as well as public health considering the rise of antibiotic resistance.

With any potential infectious disease diagnosis, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at the time of presentation what the underlying cause of illness is.  For example, acute respiratory illness is among the most frequent reasons for patients to seek care. These symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and fever may be due to a bacterial infection, viral infection, both, or a non-infectious condition such as asthma or allergies.  Given the difficulties in making the diagnosis, most patients are inappropriately given antibacterials.  However, each of these etiologies (bacteria, virus, or something else entirely) leaves a fingerprint embedded in the host’s response. We are very interested in finding those fingerprints and exploiting them to generate new approaches to understand, diagnose, and manage disease.

These principles also apply to sepsis, defined as life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Just as with acute respiratory illness, it is often difficult to identify whether infection is responsible for a patient’s critical illness.  We have embarked on a number of research programs that aim to better identify sepsis; define sepsis subtypes that can be used to guide future clinical research; and to better predict sepsis outcomes.  These efforts have focused on many systems biology modalities including transcriptomics, miRNA, metabolomics, and proteomics.  Consequently, our Data Science team has utilized these highly complex data to develop new statistical methods, furthering both the clinical and statistical research communities.

These examples are just a small sampling of the breadth of research Dr. Tsalik and his colleagues have conducted.  

In April 2022, Dr. Tsalik has joined Danaher Diagnostics as the VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Infectious Disease, where he is applying this experience in biomarkers and diagnostics to shape the future of diagnostics in ID. 

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