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A new meningitis test could stop children being treated unnecessarily

The test could also cut testing times from 48 hours to one hour.

The new test will now be used in a hospital environment.
The new test will now be used in a hospital environment.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

A NEW TESTS for meningitis developed at Queen’s University Belfast could provide results to patients and doctors in one hour, rather than the current 48 hours.

The researchers say that not only could the test see patients getting treated quicker, it could also reduce the number of children treated unnecessarily.

Meningococcal disease can be very difficult to diagnose with many patients only being diagnosed when a visible rash develops. Its early stages mimic symptoms of the common cold.

Queen’s University estimates that 50% of patients who turn out to have meningococcal disease have been reassured in the previous 12-24 hours that they can return home.

For those patients who are suspected as having meningitis and are sent to hospital, doctors often err on the side of caution and treat them for the disease. It means that up to a third of patients may be treated unnecessarily.

Standard NHS tests for the disease can take 48 hours to come back but the new diagnostic test, known as Lamp (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification), can provide results within an hour.

The method was developed by Queen’s University in partnership with the Belfast Trust and was tested over the course of a two-year study. It was found to be as accurate as the standard test.

“The test saves lives as well as saving precious time for hospital staff, so the next stage is that this test is made readily available to clinicians,” says lead researcher Dr James McKenna.

When designing the Lamp diagnosis, we focused on producing a test that would be easy to use for clinicians in a hospital setting, taking away from what can be a timely cost of tests being performed by trained lab technicians.

The next stage of the development of the test will be study it in a live hospital environment.

Over the next two years it will be used in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast before a decision is taken on its wider rollout.

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Rónán Duffy

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