Life Sciences

New method can help doctors diagnose blood infections

Doctors could soon be using an innovative method to diagnose blood infections.

Reports published in mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology, showed that researchers have come up with a new way to identify bacteria in the blood much more quickly. 

The process consists of three clear steps, where blood cells in the sample are destroyed, bacteria or fungi is assessed and the fingerprints of pathogens are scrutinised. 

Co-author of the study John Walsh said current methods – including gram staining and phenotypic ID tests – are not always effective. They can take too long, which means the patient is missing out on important treatment. 

The new way of doing things will cut the amount of time it takes for doctors to diagnose a problem, enabling them to administer drugs far more promptly.

Mr Walsh remarked: "The primary benefit of getting a rapid identification is making sure the patient is on the right [antibiotic] therapy and to quickly make any needed adjustments to the initial therapy."

He added that the new process uses intrinsic fluorescence to identify microorganisms and this not only helps to lower costs, it also limits the number of mistakes that can be made. 

Laboratory tests showed the method can correctly identify the cause of the blood infection in 96.5 per cent of all test samples. 

In the 2.7 per cent of samples where no species identity is provided, the system could find the right family of bacteria 67 per cent of the time. This, Mr Walsh stated, is enough to allow doctors to make an informed diagnosis. 

The team are now working on making a fully-automated process by introducing robotics. 

"Our vision is to have a system that will automatically identify the blood culture isolate within 15 minutes of the culture being called positive," Mr Walsh continued. 

The new method could help to reduce the number of people dying from sepsis – a life threatening illness that occurs when the body overreacts to an infection.

According to the NHS, there are more than 30,000 cases of severe sepsis reported in the UK every year and this figure is thought to be rising. 

Life Sciences

Report calls for more advanced diagnostics technology

There have been some outstanding breakthroughs in the development of diagnostics technology on a global scale in recent years.

However, an organisation in the US believes that more needs to be done to equip doctors and hospitals with more advanced systems that make it easier for them to prescribe more effective treatments.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America believes there is an "urgent need" for tests that are not only easy for doctors to use, but also identify the bug causing somebody to feel unwell much faster.

Published in a special supplement to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the report indicated that supplies of antibiotics are being wasted because people are being misdiagnosed. 

Lead author of the paper Angela Caliendo explained why it is important for consultants to get to the root cause of an illness as quickly as possible. 

"Delayed diagnosis puts us at an immediate disadvantage against infections," Ms Caliendo commented. 

"Not only is this detrimental for patients and their doctors, it also contributes to unnecessary healthcare costs through unneeded treatments, hospitalisations and isolation of patients."

She used the example of patients who visit their GP with acute upper respiratory infections to demonstrate that the current system could be failing. 

Around half of the people with this problem are prescribed antibiotics, even though most of these infections are viral and are not cured by this kind of treatment. 

The introduction of more sophisticated diagnostics technology could prevent this from happening, Ms Caliendo believes.

"It is critical that we not only invest in the development of new diagnostic tests, but that we also work to ensure these new tests are fully integrated into patient care," she added.

The UK introduced new legislation in 2010 in order to better control the risk of infection and contamination in humans. 

Food poisoning and infectious bloody diarrhoea are perhaps the two most common forms of infectious illnesses reported in the UK, while a small number of people have also been affected by the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease in the past few years.