New rapid diagnostic tests urgently needed to improve diagnosis of meningitis

26 Oct 2020
New rapid diagnostic tests urgently needed to improve diagnosis of meningitis
New rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are urgently needed so that meningitis is identified quickly, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Infection.

Current processes to confirm a case of meningitis can take at least 24 hours, but meningitis can kill quickly and so faster tests are needed to ensure people get the treatment they need.

While some rapid test exist, they are still too costly, in some circumstances far exceeding $20, which is the maximum acceptable cost for the World Health Organization (WHO). Others fail to reach acceptable specificity, which means they can’t always ensure that only people who do have meningitis test positive. While if the tests aren’t sensitive enough, there is a risk that true cases of disease can be missed.  Many of the current tests also have a reliance on electricity and cold storage, which isn’t always possible in all settings.

Increasing access to diagnostic tests, at all levels of care, globally is an integral part of the new Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030. Developed by a WHO-led task force, the Roadmap offers the opportunity to develop new affordable tests, that can produce reliable results in many different settings, such as hot and humid weather.

Currently, tests rely on samples taken from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) – a clear, colourless fluid found around the brain and spinal cord. To create a test that is adaptable to many settings and countries, new RDTs would also ideally use alternatives to CSF, such as urine or blood, because obtaining a CSF sample via lumbar puncture is a complex procedure that can only be performed by specially trained medical staff.

Vinny Smith, Meningitis Research Foundation Chief Executive said: ‘As meningitis continues to devastate communities around the world, the need for a rapid test cannot be understated. Having access to these tests would substantially improve the care of patients, monitoring of outbreaks and spread of the diseases and public health responses. Critically, this will mean fewer people die from meningitis.’
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