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Rapid meningitis test being rolled out in Northern Ireland

Friday 1st September 2017
A new, much faster method of diagnosing meningitis is being rolled out at a childrens hospital in Northern Ireland. Image: EzumeImages via iStock
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A new blood test for meningitis that is able to provide a much quicker diagnosis for the infection than current tests is being introduced at a hospital in Northern Ireland.

The accident and emergency (A&E) department at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is set to begin using the Lamp (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test to detect meningitis in young children, after loaning specialist Lamp testing equipment from private company Hibergine.

At present, it can take as long as two days for a meningitis diagnosis to be confirmed, which can mean an agonising wait for parents, as well as children's health potentially worsening, putting their lives in danger.

However, Lamp testing is able to provide an accurate diagnosis in under 60 minutes, meaning patients have a better chance of survival as they will be able to begin receiving the best possible treatment for their needs much quicker than before.

The Lamp test involves analysing a blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab sample for signs of meningitis, using advanced technology that allows the illness to be detected significantly quicker than other methods.

This equipment is currently on loan to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children thanks to funding from Queen's University Belfast, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Health and Social Care NI Public Health Agency, the Belfast Trust and the Paediatric Emergency Research UK & Ireland.

Speaking to BBC News, Dr Tom Wakefield of Queen's University Belfast commented: "With the best will in the world, you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial.

"The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis."

The news that the test would be being rolled out has been welcomed by the Meningitis Research Foundation, which said it was looking forward to seeing how it might work in other healthcare settings in the future.

Written by Martin Lambert

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