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BackgroundIn resource limited settings acute febrile illnesses are often treated empirically due to a lack of reliable, rapid point-of-care diagnostics. This contributes to the indiscriminate use of antimicrobial drugs and poor treatment outcomes. The aim of this comprehensive review was to summarize the diagnostic performance of host biomarkers capable of differentiating bacterial from non-bacterial infections to guide the use of antibiotics.MethodsOnline databases of published literature were searched from January 2010 through April 2015. English language studies that evaluated the performance of one or more host biomarker in differentiating bacterial from non-bacterial infection in patients were included. Key information extracted included author information, study methods, population, pathogens, clinical information, and biomarker performance data. Study quality was assessed using a combination of validated criteria from the QUADAS and Lijmer checklists. Biomarkers were categorized as hematologic factors, inflammatory molecules, cytokines, cell surface or metabolic markers, other host biomarkers, host transcripts, clinical biometrics, and combinations of markers.FindingsOf the 193 citations identified, 59 studies that evaluated over 112 host biomarkers were selected. Most studies involved patient populations from high-income countries, while 19% involved populations from low- and middle-income countries. The most frequently evaluated host biomarkers were C-reactive protein (61%), white blood cell count (44%) and procalcitonin (34%). Study quality scores ranged from 23.1% to 92.3%. There were 9 high performance host biomarkers or combinations, with sensitivity and specificity of ≥85% or either sensitivity or specificity was reported to be 100%. Five host biomarkers were considered weak markers as they lacked statistically significant performance in discriminating between bacterial and non-bacterial infections.DiscussionThis manuscript provides a summary of host biomarkers to differentiate bacterial from non-bacterial infections in patients with acute febrile illness. Findings provide a basis for prioritizing efforts for further research, assay development and eventual commercialization of rapid point-of-care tests to guide use of antimicrobials. This review also highlights gaps in current knowledge that should be addressed to further improve management of febrile patients.

Original publication





PloS one

Publication Date





Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), Campus Biotech Building B2 Level 0, 9 Chemin des Mines, 1202, Geneva, Switzerland.


Humans, Bacterial Infections, Acute Disease, Fever, Diagnosis, Differential, Diagnostic Tests, Routine, Biomarkers