All parts of our bodies are vulnerable to bacterial infection, even our blood. When blood becomes infected, this is termed sepsis. Sepsis can occur after surgeries or ailments and is common in hospitals. Its symptoms are similar to infection of any other part of the body, but its results are more calamitous, as the entire body is infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 727,000 people were hospitalized due to sepsis in 2008, and 250,000 people die as a result of this widespread infection every year.

Can it be treated?

Often, the onset and spread of sepsis are very brief. And conversely, diagnosis of sepsis takes time, as the bacteria found in blood must be collected, grown, and analyzed for up to two days before a conclusive diagnosis can be made. As a result, sepsis cases become more dangerous before they are even treated and often overcome treatment methods by the time they are administered. Still, the bacteria can be resistant to the treatments given, making medical professionals helpless to the ailment.

A new study has developed a test to accurately and quickly detect bloodstream infections that cause sepsis so that treatments can be decided upon in a timely fashion. The innovative test takes about two hours to run and compares a patient's blood to other blood samples with known infections. After 107 comparisons of blood samples are made, a result regarding which bacteria is infecting a patient becomes conclusive, informing doctors of the proper action to take.

The type of bacterial infection a patient has is important to identify before beginning a treatment. Bacteria are killed by antibiotic treatments. However, antibiotic treatments are specific to particular bacteria. As a result, prescription of an inappropriate antibiotic may kill off other bacteria in the body, and may allow the bacteria causing dangerous sepsis to thrive even more. This makes treatment difficult as there are only so many antibiotics available; misuse of antibiotics can worsen sepsis and make blood stream infections much worse.

This new test will prevent the misuse and overprescription of antibiotics because patients will be treated almost two days sooner than they would have been using previous diagnosis methods. Similarly, it will allow for more careful decisions to be made about treatment, as doctors will know very quickly which bacteria they are seeking to kill and will not prescribe unnecessary treatments in the effort to make the patient feel better by guessing what is wrong with him or her.

While the test cannot currently identify eight percent of bacteria that may cause infections of the blood, the two-hour test is still highly useful in hospital settings where sepsis is a common and avoidable occurrence. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the bacteria test to use blood samples from patients and establish infections to make quick and effective diagnoses. The test is highly sensitive, identifying up to 107 specific types of bacteria, including but not limited to Staphylococcus, E. Coli, and Listeria.

This new testing technology may favorably alter the global incidence of sepsis, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Source: Buchan BW, Ginocchio CC, Manii R, et al. Multiplex Identification of Gram-Positive Bacteria and Resistance Determinants Directly from Positive Blood Culture Broths: Evaluation of an Automated Microarray Based Nucleic Acid Test. PLoS Medicine. 2013.