Think You Have an Infection? Breathe Here.
Exciting developments in the field of diagnosis: Scientists based out of the University of Vermont announced a method to detect and identify the telltale signatures of infectious bacteria simply by sampling people’s breath:
The test picks up signature volatile organic compound (VOC)—particles emitted in gasses—profiles that the bacteria produce that are distinct those that the body—or other bacteria—give off. The findings were published online January 10 in the Journal of Breath Research.
This is a promising development in many ways, not least because it appears to be more accurate and hundreds of times faster than growing cultures in a laboratory. Besides being able to diagnose common infections, the breath technique could also be marshaled to pinpoint certain rarer drug-resistant bacteria, which could help create a rapid response system for ferreting out dangerous pathogens.
Applications for the technology aren’t limited to ENT environments either. Scientists think they might someday be able to use the very same mass spectrometer method to unlock key insights into other realms of human health:
Similar breath tests have also been studied for detecting other ailments, such as diabetes and cancer. And Hill and her colleagues think that they might be able to extend the “breathprint” approach to identify other infections. “I suspect that we will also be able to distinguish between bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the lung,” she noted.
Speaking as an experienced ENT who often gets asked about the difference between cold, flu and fungus, the possibility that we might soon have instant answers for such questions is auspicious, to say the least. Stay tuned for further developments from the breathless world of medical science.