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In a potential breakthrough in the battle against an often-deadly medical condition, researchers have created a new diagnostic tool that could be a game-changer.

A Series Condition Driven by our own Immune System

Sepsis is a medical condition that is driven by your own immune system.  If you suffer a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that lingers, your immune system may mount an overwhelming attack on the infection.

While inflammation is a common protective action triggered by the immune system, the sudden and excessive deployment of chemicals that cause inflammation to battle an invader can lead to leaking blood vessels, blood clots, and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.  As the immune system fights too hard, septic shock develops and can result in major organ and heart failure.

While sepsis is associated with the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, it can easily strike a seemingly healthy individual of any age who is suffering an infection.  More than one million people in the US suffer sepsis each year and approximately 30 percent of these cases are fatal.

At present, survival without disability or death depends on several factors that include:

  • Recognition by the patient that their condition is a medical emergency and getting medical help
  • Recognition of sepsis by healthcare providers and testing that can take upwards of three days for a definitive identification
  • Effective, rapid interim treatment with the right drug, without knowing exactly which pathogen is in play
  • Supportive treatment to defer worsening symptoms and the occurrence of septic shock

In a recent article in mBio, the journal of The American Society of Microbiology, researchers describe their assessment of a newly developed platform that can identify bacterial pathogens within approximately 70 hours.

Speed and Accuracy are Critical

Speed and accuracy of identifying the germ at the base of an infection is critical to slowing or stopping the infection while encouraging the immune system to stand down.  Faster bacterial identification allows physicians to deliver targeted antibiotics that are still known to work against often resistant bacteria.  Researchers note that they expect results faster than 70 hours when the platform is in clinical use and additional computing power is available.

How does it work?  The process, called BacCapSeq, uses sequencing to identify bacteria.  The platform contains 4.2 million genetic probes that can detect the characteristics of a bacterium and highlight that result.  At present, similar tests can identify up to 19 infection-causing bacteria. BacCapSeq can identify all 307 known pathogenic bacteria.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in a hospital can be virulent.  Antibiotic resistant bacteria are present in all hospital settings.  Opportunistic bacteria enter the body through surgery, from a contaminated medical device, or through everyday inpatient medical care.  These factors increase the likelihood of sepsis in a hospital setting.

Know the signs of sepsis.  If you believe you, or a loved one, could have sepsis, go immediately to an emergency department and ask, “Could this be sepsis?” Better knowledge of the physiological factors that trigger sepsis and improved diagnostic tools could save your life.

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