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Understanding Respiratory Pathogen Panel Results and How They Should Guide Patient Care

Apr 19, 2022

During the recent pandemic, the focus was placed on a particular respiratory virus, the coronavirus we call COVID-19. But there are many other viruses, bacteria, and organisms that cause illness in the respiratory tract. From the common cold to influenza, humans suffer from a myriad of respiratory maladies. With respiratory pathogen panel testing at TOPLAB®, medical professionals can obtain fast, accurate results that help diagnose and treat patients in New Jersey and nationwide. Here’s a closer look at how.

What Is a Respiratory Panel?

It all starts with a nasal swab. A healthcare professional will ask you to raise your nose by tipping your head back, then a long absorbent swab is gently inserted into the nostril. When the swab reaches higher areas in the throat, the swab is rotated to collect the sample. The swab is then removed from your nose and the sample is stored and labeled in a sterile specimen container.

Respiratory pathogen panel testing begins with that sample, and the test is used to find many different viruses and bacteria. At TOPLAB®, a molecular assay from NxTAG Luminex Technology is used to determine whether problematic pathogens are found in the respiratory sample. The test utilizes PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, which is a method for identifying organisms by their genetic material. Depending on the pace of tests performed at the laboratory, you may receive results within one day.

Respiratory Pathogen Panel Results

If the test result is positive, it means that specific pathogens were discovered. Based on the identity of the pathogen your doctor can prescribe a care regime or medicine to hasten recovery.

What if you don’t have symptoms, but the result of the respiratory pathogen panel test is positive? It could be that the detected microbe has already died, and you are recovering nicely. Not all positive results indicate a current active infection.

A negative result from the respiratory pathogen panel test could mean that your symptoms result from a pathogen that wasn’t included in the test. If you continue to experience symptoms your healthcare professional may order additional tests, such as a blood test. They also may send a sample to the laboratory for testing by bacteria culture. This is how strep throat infections are identified.

Another possibility with a negative result is that your symptoms are not caused by a virus or bacteria. This information is helpful to your medical team, and they can look for reasons other than pathogens to explain your symptoms and prescribe treatment.

False-Positive and False-Negative Results

You may have heard about false-positive or false-negative results. These do not happen often with respiratory pathogen panel tests. These kinds of results can happen for a variety of reasons, such as the sample being too small, or interaction with medications taken by the patient. Illnesses and even stress can influence the test results. So, a small fraction of lab results is described as one of the following:

False-Positive Test Results

The test recognizes specific pathogens and organisms that are NOT present in your respiratory tract. Ordering a second test usually will provide the correct result.

False-Negative Test Results

The test shows that you are free of any pathogens, however, your symptoms, and a second test, show that bacteria, viruses, or other organisms are in your respiratory tract.

What Do Test Results Mean for Patients?

You went to see your doctor because you didn’t feel well, and with a quick and relatively painless respiratory pathogen panel test, you received some fast results. The test may have indicated the presence or absence of viruses, bacteria, or other organisms. Either way, this information is crucial to the diagnostic process. Your healthcare team needs to know what they are dealing with. Along with information obtained by observing your symptoms, thorough physical exam, and other medical tests deemed necessary, your doctors can narrow down the possibilities, determine a diagnosis, and start treatment.

How Can Test Results Guide Patient Care?

The results of the respiratory pathogen panel test can identify organisms that cause a variety of illnesses, such as:

  • Flu
  • COVID-19
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • RSV, respiratory syncytial virus
  • Whooping cough
  • Adenovirus

By determining the exact cause, and the resulting illness, the patient and the medical team can start a program of treatment and recovery. Without the information provided by the respiratory pathogen panel test, trial-and-error treatment regimens can take much longer to positively affect the health of the patient.

Order Fast Results With Respiratory Pathogen Panel Testing

If you or your patients experience symptoms of respiratory infections, order the respiratory pathogen panel test. Put an end to coughing, nasal congestion, sore throat, and other symptoms by finding out exactly which pathogens are at the root of the problem. This test also is the best way to identify the presence of COVID-19 if you have been exposed to it. With speed and accuracy, TOPLAB® uses the most up-to-date technology and laboratory practices to provide safe, confidential, vital information to doctors and individuals in NJ and nationwide. Contact TOPLAB® today.