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Breath Test could help Diagnose Fungal Pneumonia

Update Date: Oct 23, 2014 01:07 PM EDT

A breath test could potentially shorten the amount of time it takes doctors to treat fungal pneumonia, a new study reported. Since a wide range of microbes can cause pneumonia, determining which bug is causing the infection can help doctors treat patients more effectively. In order to make the diagnostic process shorter and simpler, researchers reported that they have created a breath test that shows promise for detecting invasive aspergillosis.

In order to diagnose invasive aspergillosis, which is a fungal infection that can cause death in patients with jeopardized immune systems, doctors currently have to get a biopsy of the lung. This invasive procedure can be extremely hard to carry out especially in patients with compromised immune systems. Due to these risks, the research team headed by Sophia Koo, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, set out to see if patients with fungal pneumonia had a specific chemical signature in their breath.

Koo and her team took breath samples from 64 patients who were suspected of having invasive aspergillosis. They examined the samples and attempted to predict which patients had the fungal infection. After analyzing the fungal compounds, the team was able to accurately group the patients with fungal infection from the ones without with 94 percent sensitivity and 93 percent specificity.

"Identification of the underlying microbial etiology remains elusive in most patients with pneumonia, even with invasive diagnostic measures," Dr. Koo said according to the press release. "Our findings provide proof-of-concept that we can harness detection of species-specific metabolites to identify the precise microbial cause of pneumonia, which may guide appropriate treatment of these infections. We can likely also use this volatile metabolite profiling approach to identify other, more common causes of pneumonia."

The team added that there were no adverse side effects from participating in the breath collection process.

The study, "A Breath Fungal Secondary Metabolite Signature to Diagnose Invasive Aspergillosis," was published in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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