BACKGROUND: Severe febrile illness without a known source (SFWS) is a challenge for clinicians when deciding how to manage a patient, particularly given the wide spectrum of potential aetiologies that contribute to fever. These infections are difficult to distinguish clinically, and accurate diagnosis requires a plethora of diagnostics including blood cultures, imaging techniques, molecular or serological tests, and more. When laboratory services are available, a limited test menu hinders clinical decision-making and antimicrobial stewardship, leading to empiric treatment and suboptimal patient outcomes. To specifically address SFWS, this work aimed to identify priority pathogens for a globally applicable panel for fever causing pathogens.
METHOD: A pragmatic two-pronged approach combining currently available scientific data in an analytical hierarchy process and systematically gathered expert input, was designed to address the lack of comprehensive global aetiology data. The expert re-ranked list was then further adapted for a specific use case to focus on community acquired infections in whole blood specimens. The resulting list was further analysed to address different geographical regions (Asia, Africa, and Latin America), and Cohen kappa scores of agreement were calculated.
RESULTS: The expert ranked prioritized pathogen list generated as part of this two-pronged approach included typhoidal Salmonella, Plasmodium species and Mycobacterium tuberculosis as the top 3 pathogens. This pathogen list was then further adapted for the SFWS use case to develop a final pathogen list to inform product development. Subsequent analysis comparing the relevance of the SFWS pathogen list to multiple populations and geographical regions showed that the SFWS prioritized list had considerable utility across Africa and Asia, but less so for Latin America. In addition, the list showed high levels of agreement across different patient sub-populations, but lower relevance for neonates and symptomatic HIV patients.
CONCLUSION: This work highlighted once again the challenges of prioritising in global health, but it also shows that taking a two-pronged approach, combining available prevalence data with expert input, can result in a broadly applicable priority list. This comprehensive utility is particularly important in the context of product development, where a sufficient market size is essential to achieve a sustainable commercialized diagnostic product to address SFWS.