Can a Simple Breath Test Help Diagnose Fungal Pneumonia?

Yes, and that’s wonderful news for patients in need of good news. The study was conducted by Sophia Koo, MD, and her team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They proved that a breath test to diagnose aspergillosis can work.

Why It’s So Important

Generally, victims of aspergillosis and related fungal pneumonia are patients with damaged immune function. These are often people who are already suffering from serious illnesses. And their immune systems may also have been compromised by necessary treatments. Some are on chemo or immune-suppressing drugs. So here’s the problem:

  • The patient is already weakened by their original condition.
  • When someone in that condition gets pneumonia, it can be fatal. Aspergillosis is one of the primary causes of mortality in patients with debilitated immune systems.
  • The current procedure for reaching a diagnosis often requires a lung biopsy. That’s an invasive, difficult experience even for the healthy.
  • It can take days to get the results, time the patient doesn’t necessarily have.
  • It’s important to start treating the patient as soon as possible. Sometimes that means starting the patient on antifungal medications before the type of pneumonia is identified. And that may mean powerful but toxic treatment.

What the Test Does

The breath test to diagnose aspergillosis detects the chemical markers of the fungus causing pneumonia. And it’s a procedure that’s not at all invasive. Even patients with breathing difficulties didn’t find it a problem. Oh, and the accuracy was 94%. Specificity came in at 93%. Darn good odds.

What’s Next?

The test isn’t ready for clinical use yet; it needs more research. But Dr. Koo and her colleagues are already looking ahead, profiling other fungi and bacteria to develop similar tests for them.


A breath test to diagnose aspergillosis would be a lifesaver even if it ended there. But the implications are staggering. Imagine a world where 20, 50, 100 conditions are tested by simply breathing into a single tube. That world might just be on its way.

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