September 1, 2007 Infectious disease specialists have developed a way to quickly diagnose the very dangerous, antibiotic-resistant infection called MRSA. By dropping a cartridge in a device the technology makes molecular diagnostics simpler and faster. It eliminates the need for an entire staff trained in recognizes these bacteria. The technology has been expanded to other difficult to diagnose infections as well.
Can a hospital make you sick? Actually, it can. The CDC reports over 60 percent of hospital patients can get a staph infection called MRSA. But now, a tool used to fight terrorism can fight disease in our own area hospitals. Maureen Daly lost her 63 year old mother to a bacteria called MRSA. Resistant to most antibiotics, doctors call MRSA the "super-bug."
"She was trapped in her body and the infection, the MRSA, just kept ravaging and ravaging her system," Daly said. MRSA staph infections contracted in the hospital can be dangerous if undetected. But now, hospitals can count on a new expert that can identify MRSA in just two hours.
Inside the Gene Xpert, manufactured by Cepheid, MRSA DNA is removed from the patient's sample and then made bigger to confirm the diagnosis.
"MRSA is becoming rampant in the health care system and it's costing upwards of 40 billion dollars a year in excess healthcare costs," said John Schiefer, a Cepheid technician.
Gene Xpert can also be used to confirm entero-virus meningitis and group B strep in patients. But its original function -- fighting terrorism. In 2001, when anthrax laced letters threatened the United States, testing technology needed to be upgraded and simplified...fast. "Every hour, our mail is getting sniffed for the presence of anthrax spores," said David Persing from Cepheid.
Quick results are crucial. A patient with MRSA immediately serves as a reservoir for transmission. As patients get sicker, hospital bills go up.
"Any kind of test costs money, but the up-front investment is well worth it," Persing said.
Cutting costs, without cutting corners.
BACKGROUND: Scientists at Cepheid have developed a simple new test called Xpert MRSA to detect methicilin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA), the antibiotic-resistant so-called ýsuperbugý that people can contract while in the hospital for otherwise routine procedures. The new test received FDA approval in April of this year.
HOW IT WORKS: Molecular diagnostic tests are the fastest, most accurate method of MRSA screening. However, it takes a long time -- as long as two days -- and a trained staff in order to perform the analysis, and most hospitals don't have those resources. Xpert MRSA can generate a result in two hours, enabling hospitals rapidly identify infected carriers of MRSA so they can take timely control measures. The ultimate goal is to lower the rate of hospital-acquired infections and improve overall patient care. The Xpert MRSA test Simply asks users to place a patient sample in the cartridge and load it into the device. It's like having a complex molecular laboratory in a handheld box that can be used anywhere, any time. It is making molecular diagnostic technology more widely available to test for other harmful pathogens, such as enterovirus meningitis, Group B Streptococcus, or anthrax.
WHAT IS MRSA: MRSA is a common cause of skin infections; it can also cause pneumonia, ear infections and sinusitis. MRSA bacteria are sometimes dubbed 'superbugs' because they are highly resistant to common antibiotics like penicillin, making infections difficult to treat effectively. Bacteria are highly adaptive, and over time they naturally develop resistance, protecting them from incoming germs (and antibiotics) and making them harder to kill. If MRSA enters the body through the skin, it can cause irritating skin infections, but if it enters the lungs or bloodstream, it can cause serious blood infections, pneumonia, even death. MRSA infection rates in the US have been increasing every since 1970, largely because surveillance programs to monitor its spread are not effective. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have all but eliminated MRSA from their hospitals through such surveillance programs, which focus on screen patients for MRSA at admission and isolating any carriers.
ABOUT MICROFLUIDICS: Microfluidics studies how fluids behave at microscopic levels: volumes of water, for example, that are thousands of times smaller than a single droplet. At these size scales, tiny effects that wouldn't be noticeable on a large scale play a much larger role. By understanding these effects, scientists can use them manipulate fluids on the microscopic scale. This has led to such beneficial technologies as ink jet printers and labs-on-a-chip for fast and cheap DNA sequencing.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.