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A single test to detect many winter ailments


5 Star

A single test to detect many winter ailments

Our Review Summary

This story does a good job of presenting accurate, comprehensive information about the xTag Respiratory Viral Panel.  The xTag test was recently approved by the FDA and is the first of its kind to provide early detection of multiple respiratory viruses.  These viruses can cause acute respiratory infections such as the common cold, influenza, bronchitis, croup, and pneumonia.  The article succinctly describes the complex technology employed by the test in easily understandable terms.  The xTag test is presented in context of a key health issue: the under-diagnosis of the flu in vulnerable populations, such as children, versus the inappropriate and unneeded prescription antibiotics in cases where they are ineffective in treating the flu.  This story takes a balanced approach in presenting the evidence supporting the pros and cons of the test. It could have been improved by stating that it is not necessary for most routine febrile illnesses in the outpatient setting. Overall, the article is well done and informative.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


This story does a good job of providing the cost of the XTag respiratory panel, $300-400, and cost-related information.  The test is relatively expensive but is also covered by insurance.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story presents several benefits of the xTag test.  It is 1) more sensitive and more comprehensive than currently available tests and diagnostic procedures, 2) it can address the problem of under-diagnosis of the flu in vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, 3) it can inform treatment decisions by potentially reducing the inappropriate use of antibiotics while indicating when they might be beneficial.   An important caveat is that it is not known whether diagnosing these viruses improves outcomes, i.e. decreased use of antibiotics, fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The two main drawbacks of the xTag test, that it is expensive and can take up to a day or two to get the results, are presented.  Expense is an important issue given the volume of acute febrile illnesses in children, particularly if this test were given routinely in an outpatient setting.  In addition, if the processing time at the specific location is is too long, the test may not have any practical benefit in the treatment decision window.  

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


This article provides comprehensive information in an easily understandable way.  For example, it provides the context/relevance of the xTag test by summarizing results published in a prestigious medical journal, describing how the test is administered to a patient and the laboratory process used to analyze the sample.  It also explains the key pieces of a diagnostic test, sensitivity and specificity.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This article is topical because the winter flu season is arriving.  However, clarification of the type of patient and situation where this test would be most beneficial was missing.  This test would be beneficial for children seen in emergency rooms or hospitalized with acute respiratory illnesses, where making the correct diagnosis as rapidly as possible is essential.  The test is generally not needed for most children in the primary care setting who present with symptoms of a short-term flu.  In these cases, good physician judgement will determine whether an acute illness is viral in most instances, precluding the need for antibiotics.  Although the example of influenza treatment (as a ‘missed opportunity’) was given, this treatment would only decrease symptoms by 1-2 days, which would not be significant for most healthy children. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


This story draws information from a variety of credible sources, including the FDA, a researcher who published results indicating that the flu is under-diagnosed in children, and an independent emergency room physician.  Information from the manufacturer is also given.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This article covers all of the bases on treatment diagnosis and treatment option.  The flu can be diagnosed based upon clinical observations of signs and symptoms or by other available flu tests.  Treatment options, flu medicine, antibiotics or no treatment, are clearly indicated.


Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


This story provides good information about availability.  The Xtag test is mainly used in hospitals and emergency rooms but can also be done in the primary care setting.  Other important information on variability of the length of time needed to process the test, from hours to 1-2 days, was also provided.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The xTag test is novel and the article handles this nicely.  It is the only FDA approved product that can detect multiple viral strains that can cause acute respiratory diseases.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Because an independent source was quoted, it appears the story did not rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 10 of 10 Satisfactory


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