Innovative new test for meningitis transforms diagnosis
18 September 2017
An innovative, rapid test for meningitis is now being used in Worcestershire’s hospitals which speeds up diagnosis and saves lives by producing accurate results within an hour.
Meningitis is a life-threatening infection of the membranes surrounding the brain which can develop quickly and can kill within hours. Until now, the tests used to identify this infection took up to two days to get a result. The tests to identify encephalitis – an infection of the brain itself - took even longer to diagnose, usually up to four days.
This week (18 – 24 September) is Meningitis Awareness Week, and is marked by the transformation of diagnosis of the infection in Worcestershire’s acute hospitals, with the use of a new piece of equipment which rapidly analyses samples and produces accurate results in just one hour.
The new technology, the Biofire FilmArray®, allows the laboratory at Worcestershire Royal Hospital to inform doctors of a positive result much faster, leading to targeted treatment and reassurance for patients and their families.
The rapid test also means negative results are identified much quicker, reducing inappropriate treatments and unnecessary hospital stays. The Biofire FilmArray® works by analysing a patient’s spinal fluid for up to 14 different bacteria and viruses.
Consultant Microbiologist, Dr Mary Ashcroft said: “Meningitis can develop very quickly and can kill within hours. Whilst treating immediately because of suspicion of meningitis is the most important aspect of managing suspected cases, having early, accurate diagnosis that allows prompt and targeted treatment is essential for improving outcomes for patients. This new test has transformed the way we diagnose these dangerous infections.”
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust was one of the first hospital Trusts in the country to extensively trial this new technology. The Biofire FilmArray® testing is now being carried out as a part of routine laboratory testing and is available seven days a week at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
Microbiology Laboratory Manager at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, Peter Jackson said: “The new test looks for a specific target area of the genome of a bacteria or virus. Even in small numbers these will be detected, as the process makes multiple copies of the area to increase detection and get such quick results. This is good news for patients as it means doctors can confirm much earlier if the patient is already on appropriate treatment and if necessary, change to more specific treatments.”
Anyone can get meningitis although some forms are more common in different age groups. Some bacterial causes of meningitis can be associated with outbreaks and although outbreaks are relatively rare in the UK, when they do occur they can develop very quickly and contact between people can spread the infection more widely. In this instance, quick treatment is vital in reducing the risk and helping prevent the spread of infection.