A DNA test that can identify secondary infections in COVID-19 patients.

Patients who are diagnosed with severe COVID-19 may need mechanical ventilation in order for clinicians to help treat the virus. However, some may be susceptible to secondary bacterial infections.

COVID-19 patients are thought to be more at risk of a secondary infection because of the amount of lung damage from the virus and will spend more time on a ventilator than those without COVID-19. Many of these patients also have a poorly-regulated immune system, where the immune cells damage the organs and also have impaired anti-microbial functions, so trying to diagnose these patients early is vital.

Cambridge researchers have developed a DNA test to identify those who may have developed the secondary infection a lot sooner.

The test uses multiple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to help detect the DNA of the bacteria within a few hours rather than waiting for it to grow in the lab. The test runs multiple PCR reactions and can simultaneously pick up 52 different pathogens (organism that causes disease), which often infect the lungs of patients in intensive care. At the same time, it can also test for the bacteria which may be resistant to antibiotics.

Often patients have already started to receive antobiotics before the bacteria has had time to grow meaning cultures are often negative. However, the PCR test doesn’t need to viable bacteria to be able to detect it, not only making it a more accurate test and are able to speed up the diagnosis.

This is one of the first times that this technology has been used in routine clinical practice and was approved by Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge.

Read the full story from January 2021

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