Scientists hope new test
could help contain meningitis outbreaks
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[August 25, 2016]
By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A
test has been developed that could help diagnose bacterial infections
including meningitis in minutes, but it could take several years before
a cheap testing device is available to developing countries, scientists
said on Wednesday.
The new test could save lives, allow treatment of disease - which is
difficult to diagnose - to start much sooner and reduce the risk of
life-changing after effects, an international team of researchers
led by Imperial College London said.
"We would very much hope this could become something cheap enough to
be applied even in resource poor regions," Imperial College
Professor Michael Levin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Currently the only test available for meningitis, whose symptoms
include a high fever, headaches and vomiting, is expensive and takes
more than 48 hours, Levin said.
A study led by the pediatrician shows that bacterial infections can
be distinguished from other causes of fever.
The research revealed that two genes in white blood cells become
active only in case of bacterial infections, according to the study
published in the JAMA medical journal.
Researchers said a cheap pin-prick blood test able to accurately
identify bacterial infections in less than one hour could be
developed within five years.
"If this works... (we) could have an accurate test in situations
such as in sub-Saharan Africa where there are epidemics of
meningitis and accurate testing using the current methodologies is
really difficult," study co-author Dr Jethro Herberg said.
Meningitis is common across Africa's so-called "meningitis belt"
from Senegal to Ethiopia. An outbreak of meningitis killed at least
90 people in Niger this year, according to medical charity Médecins
Sans Frontières (MSF).
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A 2009 outbreak caused more than 80,000 cases, while some 20,000
people died in another epidemic, in 1996–1997.
Meningitis, which is prevalent in children and elderly people, can
be treated with antibiotics, but 10 percent to 15 percent of
patients die and up to 19 percent of survivors have long-term
disabilities, including brain damage and limb amputations.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie
Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news,
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