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Background: Emergency hospital admissions for infection often lack microbiological diagnostic certainty. Novel approaches to discriminate likelihood of bacterial and viral infections are required to support antimicrobial prescribing decisions and infection control practice. We sought to derive and validate a blood transcriptional signature to differentiate bacterial infections from viral infections including COVID-19. Methods: Blood RNA sequencing was performed on a discovery cohort of adults attending the Emergency Department with confirmed bacteraemia or viral infection. Differentially expressed host genes were subjected to feature selection to derive the most parsimonious discriminating signature. RT-qPCR validation of the signature was then performed in a prospective cohort of patients presenting with undifferentiated fever and a second case-control cohort of patients with bacteraemia or COVID-19. Findings: A 3-gene transcript signature was derived from the discovery cohort of 56 definite bacterial and 27 viral infection cases. In the validation cohort, the signature differentiated bacterial and viral infections with an area under receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) of 0.976 (95% CI: 0.919-1.000), sensitivity 97.3% and specificity of 100%. The AUC for C-reactive protein and leucocyte count was 0.833 (95% CI: 0.694-0.944) and 0.938 (95% CI: 0.840-0.986) respectively. In the second validation analysis the signature discriminated 34 SARS-CoV-2 positive COVID-19 from 35 bacterial infections with AUC of 0.953 (95% CI: 0.893-0.992), sensitivity 88.6% and specificity of 94.1%. Interpretation: This novel 3-gene signature discriminates viral infections including COVID-19 from bacterial sepsis in adults, outperforming both leucocyte count and CRP, thus potentially providing significant clinical utility in managing acute presentations with infection. Funding Statement: Work in this study was funded by the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the European Union FP7 (EC-GA 279185) (EUCLIDS). Declaration of Interests: None of the authors have any relevant interest to declare.<br> <br>Ethics Approval Statement: Ethical approval was obtained to take deferred consent from patients from whom an RNA specimen had been collected (or from next of kin or nominated consultee) (REC references 14/SC/0008 and 19/SC/0116).

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