New meningitis test gives results in under an hour for speedy diagnosis

September 1, 2017

A new meningitis test could speed up the diagnosis of the disease and save lives as it gives results in just under 60 minutes. The new test will be implemented in an accident & emergency (A&E) department in a hospital in northern Ireland.

Meningitis – an infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and caused by a number of different pathogens – can kill in hours yet the current way to positively identify the infection takes about two days. Speedy treatment is vital because the infection can quickly overwhelm the body, and symptoms may not be obvious until it is dangerously advanced.

At the moment, doctors rely on clinical judgement to decide whether antibiotics are urgently needed.

They err on the side of caution, which means some patients are given treatment they don’t need.

However, on rare occasions cases can be missed, which is where a rapid “Lamp” (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples could help.

Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common in babies, children and teenagers or young adults.

Viral meningitis is the most common and least serious type. Bacterial meningitis is rare but can be very serious if not treated.

Treating potential bacterial cases with antibiotics is still the safest approach and doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital will continue to do this during the two-year pilot. But they will also use the rapid Lamp test to quickly see if their clinical hunches are right.

Researcher Dr. Tom Waterfield from Queen’s University, Belfast, said it could also spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net.

“With the best will in the world you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial.The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis,” Dr. Waterfield said.

The work is funded by the Health and Social Care NI Public Health Agency and by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and is being done in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, the Paediatric Emergency Research UK & Ireland Network and The Belfast Trust.

Private company Hibergene have patented the Lamp testing equipment that is on loan to the hospital for the study.

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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