A POTENTIALLY life saving new test that quickly identifies the main cause of bacterial meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia cases in young babies has been developed by British scientists.
In 2010, 506 babies up to three months old in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were diagnosed with Group B Streptoccocal (GBS) infection.
If left unchecked it can rapidly cause inflammation of the brain lining (meningitis), blood poisoning (septicaemia) and pneumonia, all of which can be fatal. Studies indicate about one in eight young babies who develop GBS meningitis, die.
Although blood infection can be treated with antibiotics, often it is not spotted early enough.
Now Health Protection Agency (HPA) scientists have come up with a method of testing blood or spinal fluid for the bacterium, which gives results in less than two hours. It tests for a gene in the bug. The development is being reported in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.
Dr Aruni De Zoysa, from the HPA’s Streptococcus Reference Unit, who developed the test, said: “If we can allow clinicians to diagnose GBS infection quickly and accurately, this will mean antibiotic treatment can start sooner. Better management of the disease in this way should reduce the risk of mortality.”
She said it was better than the current blood test which was “time consuming and can sometimes be unreliable”.
“Our new test, although still in the early stages of development, is an invaluable tool that is based on detecting DNA, which makes diagnosis far more accurate and allows us to get results much faster,” she said.
“As there is no vaccine at present for GBS, rapid and accurate detection of the GBS bacterium is crucial to reduce the risk of infant deaths from GBS infection.”
GBS has become an increasingly important cause of neonatal meningitis in recent decades, now resulting in more than half of cases in Britain.
Bacteria are carried on the skin of about half the population, usually harmlessly. GBS only causes problems in the very young and very infirm. It can be passed from mother to child during birth.
Chris Head, chief executive of the Meninigitis Research Foundation, said: “A better diagnostic test for GBS could be a life-saver.”