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BACKGROUND: Differentiating between self-resolving viral infections and bacterial infections in children who are febrile is a common challenge, causing difficulties in identifying which individuals require antibiotics. Studying the host response to infection can provide useful insights and can lead to the identification of biomarkers of infection with diagnostic potential. This study aimed to identify host protein biomarkers for future development into an accurate, rapid point-of-care test that can distinguish between bacterial and viral infections, by recruiting children presenting to health-care settings with fever or a history of fever in the previous 72 h. METHODS: In this multi-cohort machine learning study, patient data were taken from EUCLIDS, the Swiss Pediatric Sepsis study, the GENDRES study, and the PERFORM study, which were all based in Europe. We generated three high-dimensional proteomic datasets (SomaScan and two via liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, referred to as MS-A and MS-B) using targeted and untargeted platforms (SomaScan and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry). Protein biomarkers were then shortlisted using differential abundance analysis, feature selection using forward selection-partial least squares (FS-PLS; 100 iterations), along with a literature search. Identified proteins were tested with Luminex and ELISA and iterative FS-PLS was done again (25 iterations) on the Luminex results alone, and the Luminex and ELISA results together. A sparse protein signature for distinguishing between bacterial and viral infections was identified from the selected proteins. The performance of this signature was finally tested using Luminex assays and by calculating disease risk scores. FINDINGS: 376 children provided serum or plasma samples for use in the discovery of protein biomarkers. 79 serum samples were collected for the generation of the SomaScan dataset, 147 plasma samples for the MS-A dataset, and 150 plasma samples for the MS-B dataset. Differential abundance analysis, and the first round of feature selection using FS-PLS identified 35 protein biomarker candidates, of which 13 had commercial ELISA or Luminex tests available. 16 proteins with ELISA or Luminex tests available were identified by literature review. Further evaluation via Luminex and ELISA and the second round of feature selection using FS-PLS revealed a six-protein signature: three of the included proteins are elevated in bacterial infections (SELE, NGAL, and IFN-γ), and three are elevated in viral infections (IL18, NCAM1, and LG3BP). Performance testing of the signature using Luminex assays revealed area under the receiver operating characteristic curve values between 89·4% and 93·6%. INTERPRETATION: This study has led to the identification of a protein signature that could be ultimately developed into a blood-based point-of-care diagnostic test for rapidly diagnosing bacterial and viral infections in febrile children. Such a test has the potential to greatly improve care of children who are febrile, ensuring that the correct individuals receive antibiotics. FUNDING: European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (EUCLIDS), Imperial Biomedical Research Centre of the National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Foundation, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Consorcio Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Enfermedades Respiratorias, Grupos de Refeencia Competitiva, Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet digit health

Publication Date





e774 - e785


Humans, Child, Proteomics, Bacterial Infections, Biomarkers, Virus Diseases, Anti-Bacterial Agents