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What Is A Respiratory Pathogen Panel, And Why Should You Be Tested?

Mar 4, 2022

Many bacterial and viral screenings can test for only one specific pathogen, forcing doctors to order multiple samples for their patients. This method makes testing for respiratory infections challenging. Respiratory pathogen panel testing simplifies the process by screening numerous bacteria and viruses from a single sample. So, what is a respiratory pathogen panel? TOPLAB® gives an overview of the testing method to help providers and patients understand the lab assessment and why they might need it.

What Are Respiratory Infections?

Respiratory infections comprise numerous illnesses that vary from mild to severe. They often are highly contagious since they spread through contact, including coughing, sneezing, or touching a contaminated object. In some cases, they can be fatal. According to some research, acute respiratory infections are responsible for 4 million global deaths each year. Bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, and the common cold are among the most prevalent respiratory infections.

People of all ages can contract a respiratory illness, but those with weak or compromised immune systems, such as young children and older adults, are at an increased risk of infection. Individuals who work in medical facilities, schools, military institutions, or locations with close contact also are more susceptible to catching a respiratory virus.

What Is A Respiratory Panel?

Pathogens are microbes with bacteria, viruses, or other infectious substances that cause sickness in the body. A respiratory pathogen panel looks for these particles in the parts of the body associated with breathing, such as the throat, lungs, and nose. These organs make up the respiratory tract.

Respiratory pathogen panels can identify the genetic material of common disease-carrying pathogens in a single sample, making it easier for doctors and lab technicians to provide patients with diagnoses. A medical professional may spot only one microbe with traditional testing but can detect multiple pathogens with a respiratory panel. Additionally, this testing method is faster than conventional screenings, as results often are ready within a few hours.

What Is Respiratory Pathogen Panel Testing Used For?

Doctors use respiratory pathogen panel testing to help diagnose various viral and bacterial infections. Some of these diseases include:

  • Common cold
  • Influenza
  • COVID-19
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Whooping cough
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Rhinovirus
  • Enterovirus
  • Human metapneumovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Adenovirus (leads to other illnesses, such as pneumonia, croup, and infections causing hoarse coughs)

Who Needs A Respiratory Pathogen Panel?

Not every person with a respiratory illness undergoes this test. For instance, a doctor may suggest sleep and plenty of fluids to an otherwise healthy patient with a respiratory infection instead of prescribing a specific medication. In these cases, respiratory pathogen panel testing is unnecessary.

However, severely ill patients at a heightened risk for complications may need the test to assist their physicians in developing treatment plans. In these situations, respiratory pathogen panels help establish if the bacteria or virus causing the infection is treatable with medicine. It also can help rule out other sicknesses to ensure patients receive the proper treatment.

What Do Respiratory Panel Results Mean?

Positive results show what specific pathogen is causing the respiratory infection. Panels that produce more than one pathogen indicate the person has a co-infection. Since this test does not differentiate between the genetic materials of living or dead microbes, positive results may happen if there are dead pathogens in the sample. For tests measuring multiple microbes, positive results can signify that a pathogen is in the respiratory tract but not causing symptoms.

Negative test results do not rule out respiratory infection. They may imply the sickness is not bacterial or viral or that the symptoms come from a microbe not included in the panel. However, negative results also can occur if the volume of a particular pathogen is not high enough to appear in the sample. Although rare, false negatives also can happen if there is not enough bacterial or viral genetic material in the sample to detect bacteria or a virus.

Healthcare providers use respiratory pathogen panel testing to prescribe specific medication or determine if further testing is necessary, such as a blood test, culture, or Gram stain (a test that checks for bacteria at the site of a suspected infection, such as a wound). These additional screenings help verify diagnoses and inform treatment.

Attain Accurate Respiratory Testing From TOPLAB®

Patients needing reliable respiratory infection testing should turn to TOPLAB® for solutions. We conduct tests for infectious diseases in microbiology, virology, serology, and molecular diagnostics. As a small lab that uses state-of-the-art screening devices, we deliver fast and accurate test results to patients in NJ and nationwide. Contact us today to learn more about respiratory pathogen panel testing and our full clinical reference lab.