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Scientists develop TB breath test

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TB and other lung infections could be detected with the help of a straightforward breath test, US researchers have revealed.

Nurses could potentially screen for such infections by identifying bacterial “fingerprints”, after scientists from the University of Vermont successfully differentiated between types of bacteria by testing the breath of mice.

The researchers believe a version of this testing method could be devised for humans in order to reduce the amount of time it takes to diagnose lung infections to just a few minutes.

Dr Jane Hill, one of the scientists who took part in the research, said: “Traditional methods employed to diagnose bacterial infections of the lung require the collection of a sample that is then used to grow bacteria.

“The isolated colony of bacteria is then biochemically tested to classify it and to see how resistant it is to antibiotics.

“This whole process can take days for some of the common bacteria and even weeks for the causative agent for tuberculosis.

“Breath analysis would reduce the time-to-diagnosis to just minutes.”

The researchers analysed pseudomonas aeruginosa and staphylococcus aureus, two volatile organic compounds emitted by two common bugs that infect lungs. The team sampled the breath of mice 24 hours after they were infected with the bacteria.

The results of the study, which was published in the Journal of Breath Research, revealed significant differences between the breaths of infected mice and healthy mice. The test could distinguish between bacteria species and also identify two different strains of one of the bugs.

Dr Hill added: “I suspect that we will also be able to distinguish between bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the lung.

“To that end, we are now collaborating with colleagues to sample patients in order to demonstrate the strengths, as well as limitations, of breath analysis more comprehensively.”

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