A new sepsis test is 1,000 times more effective at picking up on the deadly condition than current methods, scientists claim.
Known as the BacCapSeq platform, it simultaneously screens for 307 known disease-causing bacteria, as well as the risk of antibiotic resistance.
Even the most advanced existing tests for sepsis – a violent immune response from the body to an infection – only screen for up to 19 pathogens.
Researchers are working to make the test spot sepsis in a matter of hours, as current tests can take up to three days to spot the life-threatening reaction.
A new test that screens for all known bacterial infections is 1,000 times more sensitive than existing diagnosis methods. These pathogens can cause life-threatening sepsis (stock)
Dr Orchid Allicock, who helped create the test at Columbia University, said it will ‘give physicians a powerful tool’ to detect pathogens.
She added they would spot ones that cause sepsis, the third leading cause of death in the US. It kills 44,000 each year in the UK.
Dr Allicock said: ‘This platform is 1,000 times more sensitive than traditional unbiased testing.’
He explained this means it is at a level that is ‘comparable to tests that screen one bacterium at a time’.
Current sepsis tests take up to three days to diagnose the deadly condition and even longer to gauge if the infection is resistant to antibiotics.
While doctors wait for a result, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics, which contribute to the resistance crisis.
Although BacCapSeq provides results in a similar time of 70 hours, the researchers believe the platform will become faster as technology becomes more advanced.
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.
The test works by containing 4.2 million genetic probes that detect the DNA sequences of all 307 disease-causing bacteria.
It also picks up on biomarkers for antibiotic resistance and indicators of how aggressive the bacteria are.
Each genetic probe binds to DNA sequences when a particular pathogen is present in a blood sample.
A magnet then ‘pulls out’ the bacteria’s unique DNA sequence, which can then be used to identify the bug.
In the study, the researchers tested BacCapSeq’s ability to detect substances taken from the DNA of blood infected with several different bacteria.
The test was also used on blood samples from patients with unexplained sepsis.
In both cases, BacCapSeq was more effective at picking up on bacteria than traditional methods. And it detected infections that existing tests missed.
In one case, BacCapSeq picked up on Gardnerella vaginalis, which is only rarely associated with severe disease, as the cause of unexplained sepsis in a person with HIV/Aids.
The study was published in the journal mBio.
BacCapSeq has been created as a complement to VirCapSeq; a similar test developed by the same researchers that screens for all known human viral infections.
A test for fungal infections is being developed.
Professor Ian Lipkin, CII’s director, said: ‘Microbiological intelligence must be an integral component of precision medicine.
‘Accurate, early differential diagnosis of infectious diseases and knowledge of drug sensitivity profiles will reduce mortality, morbidity and healthcare costs.’
Among adults, antibiotic-resistant pathogens are expected to kill more people than cancer by 2050.
The Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1928.
Fleming’s discovery allowed doctors to treat and cure infected patients, saving millions of lives.
Yet, less than a century after Fleming’s discovery, there are precious few antibiotics left and many superbugs are already resistant to all of them.
Figures suggest up to 50,000 people die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections in Europe and the US alone.
Globally, at least 700,000 people pass away annually due to antibiotic-resistance complications from illnesses such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.
WHAT IS SEPSIS?
Sepsis occurs when the body reacts to an infection by attacking its own organs and tissues.
Some 44,000 people die from sepsis every year in the UK. Worldwide, someone dies from the condition every 3.5 seconds.
Sepsis has similar symptoms to flu, gastroenteritis and a chest infection.
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain
- Passing no urine in a day
- Severe breathlessness
- It feels like you are dying
- Skin mottled or discoloured
Symptoms in children are:
- Fast breathing
- Fits or convulsions
- Mottled, bluish or pale skin
- Rashes that do not fade when pressed
- Feeling abnormally cold
Under fives may be vomiting repeatedly, not feeding or not urinating for 12 hours.
Anyone can develop sepsis but it is most common in people who have recently had surgery, have a urinary catheter or have stayed in hospital for a long time.
Other at-risk people include those with weak immune systems, chemotherapy patients, pregnant women, the elderly and the very young.
Treatment varies depending on the site of the infection but involves antibiotics, IV fluids and oxygen, if necessary.
Source: UK Sepsis Trust and NHS Choices