The test involves a nasal swab and could be a faster and cheaper way to diagnose respiratory viral illnesses.
“It’s a simpler test and more cost-effective for looking at viral infection,” Ellen Foxman, the study’s author and assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said in a press release.
Currently, there are no diagnostic tests that are able to quickly identify common viruses that cause upper respiratory illnesses. Researchers Foxman and co-author Marie Landry tested human nasal cells to identify biomarkers of viral infection that can be attributable to different respiratory viruses. Using genetic sequencing, the researcher screened the cells for RNA and proteins that are known to have an increase in the presence of a virus.
The researchers found three RNAs and two proteins that are triggered by a virus and they began to measure whether the expressions of the genes could be an indicator of a viral infection. They found that both RNAs and proteins could be accurate predictors of respiratory viral infection.
RNAs predicted viral infection with 97% accuracy while identifying viruses that could not be detected by other lab tests.
“Instead of looking for individual viruses, our test asks the question: ‘Is the body fighting a virus?’” said Foxman. “We found we can answer that question very well.”
Foxman and Landry want to further develop the test into a rapid gene or protein test that could be used in a doctor’s office. The test would help diagnose viral infections in a faster and more accurate way than current lab tests that tent to be more time-consuming and expensive. They hope to complete their goal within one to five years. The researchers currently have a patent pending.
The researchers also suggest that the test could be used for assessing very sick patents and young children while also reducing the misuse of antibiotics.
“One reason to test is to know why the patient is sick,” said Foxman. “The other reason is to make a decision about whether people who are not that sick should get antibiotics.”
The research was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and the Yale Department of Laboratory Medicine.