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Breath Test Could Spot Bioterror Bugs

Infection screen would speed treatment decisions, reseachers say

MONDAY, March 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A simple breath test currently under development could let doctors quickly identify who's been infected to any one of a number of bioterror agents.

"We want to have a tool that can help in the emergency room or first responders to triage on site so that people who are infected can get treatment first," Joany Jackson, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said in a prepared statement.

Reporting March 21 at the American Society for Microbiology Biodefense Research Meeting, her team explained that when cells in the body are exposed to organisms that cause disease, they release proteins called cytokines that help immune cells identify and fight the infection. The researchers believe cytokines may work their way up through tissue to be exhaled through water vapor in the breath.

A breath test that captured and identified specific cytokines might help bioterror first responders detect newly infected individuals, they said.

To test this theory, the Johns Hopkins group exposed pigs to infectious agents and then analyzed the pigs' breath samples for cytokines and other proteins. A strong surge in cytokines in porcine breath was detected long before the pigs displayed any visible symptoms.

The researchers then checked cytokine levels in healthy pigs. "In all animals, immune markers of infection were at or below the limit of detection," researcher Nate Boggs said in a prepared statement.

The next phase will involve human testing. Previous research showed the early response of cells varies according to the type of infectious agent. Using this information, the researchers hope to be able to develop cytokine profiles that will help identify specific infectious agents.

The team is also redesigning the breath collector with the goal of receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the device.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about biological diseases and agents.

SOURCE: American Society for Microbiology, news release, March 21, 2005
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