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Breath Analysis Reliably Indicates Presence, Level of Infection

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UC Irvine

Breath analysis may prove to be an accurate, non-invasive way to quickly determine the severity of bacterial and other infections, according to a UC Irvine study appearing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Employing a chemical analysis method developed for air pollution testing, UC Irvine microbiologists and chemists were able to correlate inflammation levels in laboratory mice with the amount of naturally produced carbon monoxide and other gases in breath samples.

The findings point to human applications of this technology in emergency rooms and intensive care units, potentially augmenting or replacing blood tests.

Dr Alan Barbour of the UC Irvine School of Medicine collaborated with UC Irvine chemist Donald Blake, utilising a gas analysis method that measures the level of trace gases that contribute to local and regional air pollution. Barbour believed that breath analysis could additionally be used on infections, which elicit strong inflammatory responses in the body. Several compounds, or biomarkers, are by-products of these responses. They can be identified in blood but also detected in exhaled breath.

Studying mice with bacterial blood infections, the researchers found that increases in the severity of infection elicited significantly higher amounts of carbon monoxide in relation to carbon dioxide in breath samples, making carbon monoxide a reliable biomarker for the presence and intensity of infection. Importantly, the carbon monoxide returned to normal levels soon after an antibiotic was given.

“Using a breath analysis method like this could help physicians in the emergency room and ICU make critical decisions about serious infections more quickly than if they had to wait for blood tests to come back from the lab,” Barbour said.