Prospective Validation of a Rapid Host Gene Expression Test to Discriminate Bacterial From Viral Respiratory Infection.



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.


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.


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 score <0.19], viral likely [probability score of 0.19-0.40], bacterial likely [probability score of 0.41-0.73], and bacterial very likely [probability score >0.73]) and compared with procalcitonin measurement.


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.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Ko, Emily R, Ricardo Henao, Katherine Frankey, Elizabeth A Petzold, Pamela D Isner, Anja K Jaehne, Nakia Allen, Jayna Gardner-Gray, et al. (2022). Prospective Validation of a Rapid Host Gene Expression Test to Discriminate Bacterial From Viral Respiratory Infection. JAMA network open, 5(4). p. e227299. 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.7299 Retrieved from

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.



Emily Ray Ko

Assistant Professor of Medicine

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


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.


Gayani Tillekeratne

Associate Professor of Medicine

Global health
Antimicrobial resistance/ stewardship
Acute respiratory tract infections 
Emerging infections/ dengue


Micah Thomas McClain

Associate Professor of Medicine

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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