Comparing the Diagnostic Accuracy of Clinician Judgment to a Novel Host Response Diagnostic for Acute Respiratory Illness.



Difficulty discriminating bacterial from viral infections drives antibacterial misuse. Host gene expression tests discriminate bacterial and viral etiologies, but their clinical utility has not been evaluated.


Host gene expression and procalcitonin levels were measured in 582 emergency department participants with suspected infection. We also recorded clinician diagnosis and clinician-recommended treatment. These 4 diagnostic strategies were compared with clinical adjudication as the reference. To estimate the clinical impact of host gene expression, we calculated the change in overall Net Benefit (∆NB; the difference in Net Benefit comparing 1 diagnostic strategy with a reference) across a range of prevalence estimates while factoring in the clinical significance of false-positive and -negative errors.


Gene expression correctly classified bacterial, viral, or noninfectious illness in 74.1% of subjects, similar to the other strategies. Clinical diagnosis and clinician-recommended treatment revealed a bias toward overdiagnosis of bacterial infection resulting in high sensitivity (92.6% and 94.5%, respectively) but poor specificity (67.2% and 58.8%, respectively), resulting in a 33.3% rate of inappropriate antibacterial use. Gene expression offered a more balanced sensitivity (79.0%) and specificity (80.7%), which corresponded to a statistically significant improvement in average weighted accuracy (79.9% vs 71.5% for procalcitonin and 76.3% for clinician-recommended treatment; P<.0001 for both). Consequently, host gene expression had greater Net Benefit in diagnosing bacterial infection than clinician-recommended treatment (∆NB=6.4%) and procalcitonin (∆NB=17.4%).


Host gene expression-based tests to distinguish bacterial and viral infection can facilitate appropriate treatment, improving patient outcomes and mitigating the antibacterial resistance crisis.





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Publication Info

Jaffe, Ian S, Anja K Jaehne, Eugenia Quackenbush, Emily R Ko, Emanuel P Rivers, Micah T McClain, Geoffrey S Ginsburg, Christopher W Woods, et al. (2021). Comparing the Diagnostic Accuracy of Clinician Judgment to a Novel Host Response Diagnostic for Acute Respiratory Illness. Open forum infectious diseases, 8(12). p. ofab564. 10.1093/ofid/ofab564 Retrieved from

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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

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