Oxygen Therapy Doesn’t Boost Heart Attack Survival
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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Oxygen therapy is a routine treatment for people suspected of having a heart attack, but a new study suggests there may be no benefit for these patients.

That was true even for patients who were older, smoked or had diabetes or heart disease, according to the Swedish researchers.

The “study questions the current practice of routine oxygen therapy for all patients with suspected [heart attack],” said lead author Dr. Robin Hofmann, a cardiologist from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Patients who may have had a heart attack and are having trouble breathing, not getting adequate oxygen or have heart failure are often treated with oxygen therapy, in which oxygen is delivered through a mask or tubes in the nose, the researchers explained.

“ESC [European Society of Cardiology] guidelines have gradually shifted towards more restrictive use of oxygen,” said study co-author Dr. Stefan James, a cardiologist at Uppsala University.

“While the current recommendations were based on expert opinion only, we can now add substantial new data from our large clinical trial,” James said in an ESC news release.

The study involved more than 6,000 people with heart attack symptoms who were treated in one of 35 hospitals in Sweden. Of these patients, half were randomly assigned to receive oxygen through an open face mask. The remaining participants didn’t receive supplemental oxygen and continued to breathe room air normally without a mask.

The researchers didn’t find notable differences in the treatment results between the two groups. Oxygen therapy didn’t worsen outcomes but blood tests showed it didn’t help, either.

Patients who received this treatment didn’t have a lower risk for another heart attack or injury to the heart muscle than those who didn’t receive oxygen. Death rates within one year were similar among all the patients — even those considered high-risk, such as smokers, older patients and those with other health issues, including diabetes or heart disease.

“The study results will likely have an immediate impact on clinical practice and future guidelines,” James said.

“Our findings do not support the routine use of oxygen therapy in all patients with symptoms of a heart attack. The general use of oxygen in these cases is still widespread in the world but can now be adjusted,” he said.

The study’s findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and were presented on Monday at the annual meeting of the ESC, in Barcelona, Spain.

Long surgery waits up 400% in Wales
Surgery toolsImage copyrightThinkstock

Five times as many patients in Wales are waiting more than a year for surgery compared to four years ago, the Royal College of Surgeons has said.

An RCS Freedom of Information request showed more than 3,600 patients had waited more than 12 months in March, compared to almost 700 in March 2013.

Tim Havard, its regional director, described the steep increase as “very worrying”.

The head of the Welsh NHS said missing waiting targets was “unacceptable”.

The RCS pointed to the progress in reducing both 26 and 36 week waiting times for surgery in recent years but said overall waits were “too long”.

Trauma and orthopaedics surgery have the longest waiting times but there were declines in waiting times for specialities such as urology and cardiology.

In England, just 1,302 patients waited longer than a year for treatment in March.

Image caption Pictured three years ago – Graham Dunlop as a judo instructor

Graham Dunlop, 49, from Abergavenny has been waiting nine months and was given an 85-week estimate to remove a cyst from his spine.

He had been used to leading an active lifestyle as a black belt judo instructor and a keen cyclist, but waiting for surgery and debilitating pain has had a major impact on his life.

“You get to be a bit of a wreck,” he said. “You have good days and bad days. It certainly can’t go on until this 85-week deadline. If it goes on until that time, the amount of painkillers I’ll be on by then, I’ll be an absolute zombie.”

Mr Dunlop says he feels he is a “burden on his family”.

Having been unable to work as a mortgage advisor since December, he is concerned he will lose his home.

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Media captionGraham Dunlop says his life is on hold while he waits for spinal surgery

He said the 85-week estimate was “open-ended and woolly”.

He contacted his local Conservative AM Nick Ramsay, who wrote to the health board and the Public Services Ombudsman.

Last Friday, he was given a provisional date in October for surgery.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has offered its apologies for the “anxiety and distress Mr Dunlop was experiencing”.

It said there had been an increased demand for orthopaedic surgery, despite measures taken each year to increase capacity. An additional spinal surgeon joined this summer.

Angela Burns AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, added: “The knock-on effect of allowing people to languish on a long-term waiting list is that the NHS has to pay for their long-term care.

“Cases such as Mr Dunlop’s are a reminder to Labour politicians of the human cost of their failure to implement a long-term recruitment strategy.”

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Media captionTim Havard, director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Wales, says there are no quick fixes

Mr Havard, a consultant general surgeon, said the increase in the longest waits was “disappointing” and further evidence of pressure on the NHS.

He called for a “renewed focus” from NHS Wales and the Welsh Government to help decrease waiting times.

The RCS wants better provision of out-of-hospital services and more protection of beds used for planned surgery.

“Long waits for surgery can be traumatising for patients and their families,” he said.

“A patient’s condition can also deteriorate the longer they are made to wait for treatment, meaning the eventual outcomes are not as good as they could have been.”

He said wards were being filled with patients who should be treated in the community.

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board – which has seen a sharp rise since 2014 – said referrals for orthopaedic surgery, such as hip and knee replacements, had shot up 88%, from 18,000 to 34,000.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board stressed that 84% of patients were waiting fewer than six months to start their treatment.

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Media captionPerformance against waiting targets has improved, says Welsh NHS chief Andrew Goodall

Welsh NHS chief executive Andrew Goodall said he expected health boards to bring in patients for operations if they had been waiting too long.

He said an extra investment of £50m announced by the Welsh Government earlier in August would help target those waiting the longest.

“Where people are waiting too long, I absolutely expect that health boards should be bringing them in for operations, improving their local services for access and they should be demonstrating to local populations they can improve them,” Mr Goodall said.

“We are telling all of the health boards it is unacceptable to have waiting times that are beyond targets and we expect them to recover and improve their positions.”

America’s New Dads Are Older Than Ever
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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2017 (HealthDay News) — New dads may sport a few more gray hairs than in years past, a U.S. study finds.

The average age of new fathers has risen in recent decades, research shows, raising questions about the possible social and public health impact.

The study, which analyzed federal birth records, found that fathers of newborns are now 3.5 years older, on average, than their counterparts in the early 1970s.

And the percentage of births to fathers older than 40 has more than doubled — from about 4 percent in 1972, to 9 percent in 2015.

The pattern is not surprising, since it parallels what’s been seen among U.S. women.

But much less research has explored the changing demographics of American fathers, according to senior researcher Dr. Michael Eisenberg.

“I think it’s important for us to pay attention to these demographic shifts and what their implications could be for society,” said Eisenberg, an assistant professor of urology at Stanford University in California.

On one hand, he said, older fathers are more likely to have kids affected by certain health conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia.

Plus, couples who wait to start a family will likely have fewer kids, Eisenberg noted. And that could mean a shrinking pool of working people supporting older, retired Americans.

“I’m not trying to sound alarmist,” Eisenberg stressed. “But these are issues to think about.”

The aging of U.S. parents also has potential benefits, though.

Older dads, Eisenberg said, tend to have better jobs, more stability, and be more involved in their children’s lives.

Does that mean the trend in fathers’ ages will translate into growing ranks of involved, caring dads?

“That’s a hard question to answer,” said Richard Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU Langone Child Study Center, in New York City.

It is true that men who are more-educated and in stable relationships tend to become fathers relatively later, said Gallagher, who was not involved in the study.

“And from a psychological perspective,” he said, “older parents are likely to be more mature and less impulsive in their behavior.”

But, Gallagher noted, age alone does not guarantee good parenting skills. “Older age does not mean everything will work out well,” he said.

Surveys do show that “older” dads — those ages 35 to 44 — are more likely to be living with their kids, and therefore more involved in raising them, according to Eisenberg’s team.

And there’s evidence that kids benefit from fathers’ involvement, Gallagher said: On average, they tend to do better at school, and have more self-esteem and better emotional regulation.

Having two involved parents “is like a double-dose of caring,” Gallagher said.

The findings, published online Aug. 30 in the journal Human Reproduction, are based on records for nearly 169 million U.S. births over the past four decades.

In 1972, fathers of newborns were just over 27 years old, on average. By 2015, that average age stood at 31, the researchers reported.

The pattern was seen among fathers of all races and ethnicities, though the average age varied. By 2015, Asian men were the oldest (34 to 36 years), and black, Hispanic and Native American men were the youngest (29 to 30 years).

Few men older than 50 are becoming new fathers; they account for 0.9 percent of all births, the study found. But that is up from 0.5 percent in the 1970s.

Since men have a much longer reproductive life than women do, there is no clear definition of what an “older father” is, Eisenberg said.

“The oldest father on record was 96 years old,” he noted, referring to a man in India who had children with a wife in her 50s.

However, men do have their own biological clock of sorts. Their fertility declines with age, Eisenberg said, as does their sperm quality.

It’s been estimated that men acquire, on average, two additional mutations in their sperm each year, Eisenberg said. Plus, older fatherhood has been tied to increased risks of certain chromosomal abnormalities, autism, some pediatric cancers and schizophrenia.

The risks to any one man, however, would be small, Eisenberg pointed out. “Those are not common conditions. So even if the relative risk were increased, the absolute risk would still be low,” he said.

Still, he added, additional cases of child health conditions could have a bigger impact on a societal level.

Harvey’s Floodwaters Harbor Many Health Hazards

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Texans trapped in the unprecedented flooding wrought by Hurricane Harvey now face untold health hazards, officials say.

The filthy water that has inundated the city of Houston poses the most immediate danger, said Cleveland Clinic infectious disease expert Dr. Frank Esper.

“Those floodwaters are being contaminated with sewage, because the sewers themselves are completely flooded and are backing up through the drains into the standing bodies of water that are around and in people’s homes,” Esper said. “Every time a person is wading across the street to get from one place to another, or down the road to get to higher ground, they are encountering much, much higher loads of bacteria.”

But beyond that short-term threat, other hazards and medical problems will crop up due to the lack of modern amenities in Harvey’s aftermath, experts said.

Dr. Bruce Farber is chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He said, “We don’t even think about these problems in general because we live in a country where we take for granted a modern sanitation system.”

Filthy water in flooded areas also is likely contaminated with chemicals and toxins, from a combination of household sources and commercial sources like car dealerships and industrial plants, explained Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“At some point, even the water that comes out of your tap might become contaminated,” Benjamin said. “If you are drinking water from a well, that can easily become contaminated.”

Filthy Waters Trigger Skin Infections

You don’t have to drink flood water for it to pose a health hazard, said Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine for Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Carney, a former health commissioner for Nassau County in New York, helped man a mobile medical van during the emergency response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We saw lots of injuries initially,” Carney said. “Abrasions and lacerations from people trying to climb and move in flooded areas with woodwork and nails exposed.”

These injuries posed a substantial infection risk, thanks to the dirty water.

“When you don’t have access to antibiotics or sutures, they can be deadly for people,” Carney said.

And, Esper noted, even people lucky enough to avoid scratches and scrapes will eventually run the risk of skin infections.

“Your skin breaks down and becomes raw after so much unrelenting exposure to water,” Esper said. “Bacteria are able to find those little microscopic fissures and cracks, and cause local skin infections.”

Good wound care and skin hygiene becomes paramount in situations like this, Esper and Carney said.

Vaccines, Medications Become Critical

In addition, public health workers likely will be doling out many hepatitis A and tetanus vaccine shots, to prevent serious infections that can result from cuts and scrapes exposed to filthy water, Carney said.

Esper warned that people who drink the dirty floodwater, either intentionally or accidentally, could develop a nasty case of diarrhea or vomiting.

He added that he doesn’t expect severe waterborne diseases like cholera or typhoid will erupt in Houston. “Those just don’t happen here in the United States, and they’re not likely to be brought here by this disaster,” he said.

But even mild cases of diarrhea brought on by waterborne noroviruses will leave people vulnerable to dehydration, particularly given the ongoing August heat in Texas, Esper explained.

“That’s going to be a one-two punch,” he said. “You’re going to have diarrheal illness that can lead to dehydration, particularly in the most vulnerable — small children and the elderly.”

Benjamin said people should stick to bottled water or fresh water brought in by emergency workers, rather than trying to boil water.

People who regularly take medicine to treat chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure or rheumatoid arthritis will face an additional burden, Carney and Benjamin said.

“When they evacuated their homes, I suspect very few of them grabbed their bag of medicines, so people are going to be going without their medications,” Benjamin said.

So, Carney pointed out, a lot of the public health response will be focused on getting these folks the medications they need.

Unfortunately, Benjamin said, people don’t always know the exact dosage or even the name of the drugs they are taking. Emergency response workers will have to make an educated guess regarding the medications these people need until their medical records are found, a potentially dangerous situation.

Colds, Viruses Spread Quickly in Crowded Shelters

The thousands of people now dwelling in shelters also will have to protect themselves against waves of colds and viruses, experts said.

“When you have these respiratory viruses, they can sweep through a confined population very quickly,” Esper said. “They love to attack the most vulnerable of us.”

Carney’s emergency medical van provided hundreds of flu shots in the aftermath of Sandy, she said. Although it’s early for the flu season, Harvey responders might play it safe and do the same.

Basic hand hygiene will also be important for people in shelters, Benjamin said.

“Hand washing is absolutely essential,” Benjamin said. “If I tell people to do one thing and one thing only, it’s wash your hands after you go to the bathroom or before you eat.”

Mental Health Issues Will Worsen

People also will be dealing with emotional or mental issues, particularly those who already have mental health problems, Carney said.

“There were people who maybe had behavioral health issues, and this trauma triggered things,” said Carney, describing the response to Hurricane Sandy. “We had to link them to services that were brought to different sites.”

And if all this isn’t enough, the Texas coast is one of the few areas in the United States with an ongoing risk of local transmission of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause devastating birth defects.

According to Benjamin, “There is Zika in that community, so you do have to worry about mosquitoes. Once the water starts receding, you will have a lot of standing water that will provide substantial breeding grounds for mosquitoes.”

There is precedent for an increase in mosquito-borne illnesses following a natural disaster, Esper noted. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Gulf Coast saw more cases of West Nile virus.

Zika “is something a lot of obstetricians and pediatricians will be watching for” in the aftermath of Harvey, Esper said.

Despite these hazards, Esper believes emergency teams are heading into Harvey much better prepared than they were for Katrina.

“There are a lot of things we did wrong and a lot of things we did right, but we have a lot of lessons that were learned from that disaster,” Esper said. “I can tell you right now, policies are well-established that are being applied based on those lessons. We will not see the same extent of issues we saw following Katrina.”

Looking for A Plastic Surgeon on Instagram? Beware
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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2017 (HealthDay News) — If you’re searching Instagram using hashtags for a good #plasticsurgeon, you may end up with a #plasticsurgerydisaster performed by a hair stylist, a barber or an ER doc offering cosmetic surgery on the side.

More than four of five top Instagram posts with plastic surgery-related hashtags come from providers who aren’t eligible for membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the premier professional organization for cosmetic surgery, a new study found.

About 26 percent of top Instagram posts about plastic surgery come from physicians in other specialties, such as gynecologists, dermatologists, general surgeons, family doctors, ear-nose-throat doctors, and — in one case — an ER doc, researchers found.

Even though they were not specially trained in plastic surgery, all these physicians marketed themselves as “cosmetic surgeons,” the study showed.

Even worse, more than 5 percent of posts were from non-physicians doing plastic surgery at dentist offices, spas and hair salons.

The consequences of using a poorly trained plastic surgery provider can be much more dire than a bad tummy tuck or ugly scar, said senior researcher Dr. Clark Schierle, director of aesthetic surgery at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

A Georgia doctor specializing in emergency medicine faced felony murder charges last year after two patients died during botched liposuction procedures she performed at her Cobb County cosmetic surgery clinic, Schierle said. The doctor lost her license to practice medicine in Georgia, but prosecutors decided to drop the charges, a published report said.

And in August, a 31-year-old New York City mother of two died from enhancement injections to her buttocks that she received in a residential apartment building, according to a published report.

“It’s kind of like the wild west out there. Cosmetic surgery is really unregulated,” said Dr. Clyde Ishii, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “Consumers have to understand that cosmetic surgery is real surgery, with real complications.”

Schierle and his colleagues decided to investigate Instagram posts because “it is a uniquely visual social media channel, and plastic surgery is a uniquely visual medical specialty,” he said.

They reviewed more than 1.7 million Instagram posts to find popular posts associated with 21 plastic surgery-related hashtags. These included #plasticsurgery, #facelift, #cosmeticsurgery, #breastlift, #boobjob, #rhinoplasty, #brazilianbuttlift, #tummytuck and #liposuction.

The researchers collected the nine most popular posts for each hashtag, and checked the source for each post.

Two-thirds of the top posts promoted the person’s cosmetic surgery practice, as opposed to educating the public about plastic surgery, the researchers found. However, board-certified plastic surgeons were nearly twice as likely to use Instagram to post educational content rather than self-promotion.

The problem is that medicine is largely unregulated, and someone with a medical license is considered under the law capable of performing just about any procedure, Schierle said.

Doctors hoping to make a little extra money on the side can take some training in cosmetic surgery procedures and hang their shingle, Schierle said.

These doctors won’t be able to get board certification in plastic surgery. But they can say they’re board-certified because they have been certified by the board governing their own specialty, he said.

“An internist could perform brain surgery in the eyes of the law,” Schierle said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”

Barbers and hair stylists can legally promote plastic surgery, but they would be breaking the law if they used a knife or needle on someone, Schierle continued.

It’s likely these places are doing a “bait and switch,” seeming to offer plastic surgery services but actually steering incoming clients to other alternatives, Schierle said. For example, they might sell the person a garment that makes them sweat or offer an ostensibly fat-burning massage.

People considering cosmetic surgery need to take it more seriously, and do their homework, Ishii said.

“A lot of people view cosmetic surgery as frivolous and harmless,” Ishii said. “Because it’s treated lightly on social media, they don’t give it the respect it’s due.”

Before undergoing a procedure, ask your provider if he or she is credentialed to perform that procedure in a hospital, Ishii said. Hospitals have very stringent credentialing standards.

You also should ask whether the person is board-certified specifically in plastic surgery, and whether their board is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, Ishii added.

The ABMS is the United States’ governing body for credentialing medical professionals. Some alternative boards have popped up that will provide doctors with credentials for “cosmetic surgery,” but these boards are not recognized by the ABMS, Ishii said.

A board-certified plastic surgeon has more than six years of surgical training and experience, with at least three years specifically in plastic surgery, the researchers said.

A practitioner referring to herself or himself as a cosmetic surgeon could belong to any medical specialty, and may have received training that varies from a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship to a handful of short weekend courses on liposuction, injectables or breast implants.

The study was published Aug. 30 in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Too Much TV May Cost You Your Mobility
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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 30, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Couch potatoes, take note: A new study admonishes older adults to get up from watching the TV or risk losing their mobility.

Excessive sitting, especially while watching TV, poses a significant health hazard to older Americans, researchers warn.

“There’s something about TV watching that is really damaging,” said study lead author Loretta DiPietro. “Perhaps because people usually settle in for the night on a recliner and don’t move and start binge-watching, without breaks.”

DiPietro is chair of exercise and nutrition sciences at George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.

Her team studied the activity patterns of 134,000 adults, aged 50 to 71. Watching more than five hours of TV daily and getting three or fewer hours of physical activity a week more than tripled the study participants’ risk of disability over eight-plus years, the investigators found.

“The message is move more, and sit less,” said DiPietro. “That doesn’t mean working out. It means breaking up sitting time. Go for short walks. Climb some stairs. Walk around the house. Walk around the office. If you’re watching TV, get up and walk around during commercials.”

Most modern-day Americans, not just older people, sit about 14 hours a day, DiPietro said. And many older Americans spend 60 percent to 70 percent of their 10 to 11 non-sleeping hours a day either seated or reclining.

“What we did is consider the role of sitting within the context of physical activity,” explained DiPietro.

The question, she said, is how much physical activity do you need to offset the damage of long periods of daily sitting?

“By activity we don’t mean going to the gym. We mean mostly light moderate activity, with maybe a bit of vigorous activity,” DiPietro said.

The most active group — people who reported more than seven hours a week of physical activity — could sit up to six hours a day and have no excess risk for losing mobility, she noted.

To explore how excessive sitting might affect long-term disability risk, the researchers analyzed 1995-2005 data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s AARP Diet and Health Study.

Participants were characterized as healthy when the study began, with an average age of 61. More than nine out of 10 were white.

Daily sedentary time was reported in terms of sitting, watching TV, computer time and napping. Low-intensity activities (such as housework, walking or shopping), and moderate-to-vigorous activities (such as jogging or yard work) were also tracked.

At the study’s end, 29 percent of participants were either unable to walk or had difficulty doing so. Women, smokers, and those with less education and/or relatively worse health at the study launch were more likely to end up disabled.

The study doesn’t prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the most active and the least sedentary fared best in terms of disability risk, the researchers reported.

Investigators pegged TV as the biggest mobility culprit.

Regardless of activity levels, disability risk rose 25 percent and 65 percent, respectively, among those who watched TV three to four hours daily or five hours or more a day, compared with those who watched less than two hours daily. The risk posed by TV was not affected by race, educational background, smoking, and/or weight changes.

Jennifer Temple is an associate professor with the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo, New York.

“The surprising thing about these findings was that television watching was more harmful than sedentary behavior in general,” she said.

“The authors speculate that this is because people may be better able to accurately report the amount of time spent watching television, or that other types of sedentary activity may be interspersed with bouts of activity,” Temple noted.

“More research should be done to determine the mechanism by which television watching is having this effect,” Temple added.

The findings were published Aug. 30 in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Daisy, six, defies doctors by completing a triathlon

A six-year-old girl with cerebral palsy has completed a triathlon.

Daisy Mason, from East Winch, Norfolk, defied doctors who said she would never be able to walk or swim.

She cycled, swam and rode her wheelchair as part of a triathlon event.

Morning-after pill: ‘You feel like you’re being judged’

Niamh, who is 26 and from Manchester, says that women only take the morning-after pill in an emergency: “it’s for that time when your condom has broken and you don’t quite know what to do. Going and getting it is the responsible thing [to do].” But she thinks the consultation puts women off seeking the pill and should be scrapped.

Speaking to BBC 5 live Dr Jane Dickson, from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FRSH), says that the compulsory pharmacist consultation isn’t medically necessary, and there was no medical reason the medication couldn’t be available on general sale. She says “despite occasional minor side effects, no woman has poisoned herself” with the morning-after pill, unlike paracetamol, which is readily available in supermarkets.

But Sandra Gidley, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says the consultation is an important way for pharmacists to advise women on what medication will be most effective and to give advice on sexual health and STIs. She says “pharmacists have a professional responsibility to make sure it’s being taken appropriately and safely.”

New meningitis test ‘could save lives’
Amy DavisImage copyrightMeningitis Research Foundation
Image caption Amy developed life-threatening blood poisoning after falling ill with meningitis

A hospital A&E department in Northern Ireland is to start using a new, rapid test for meningitis that should speed up diagnosis and save lives.

Meningitis can kill in hours yet the current way to positively identify the infection takes about two days.

UK researchers say the new test that the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children will use gives results in under 60 minutes.

This should let doctors treat fast and accurately, rather than “just in case”.

Speedy treatment is vital because the infection can quickly overwhelm the body, and symptoms may not be obvious until it is dangerously advanced.

At the moment, doctors rely on clinical judgement to decide whether antibiotics are urgently needed.

They err on the side of caution, which means some patients are given treatment they don’t need.

However, on rare occasions cases can be missed, which is where a rapid “Lamp” (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples could help.

Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common in babies, children and teenagers or young adults.

Amy’s story

Amy Davis was 18 when she became severely ill with meningitis. Initially, she thought she just had a simple case of flu.

Hours later, her body was covered head-to-toe in the alarming blotchy purple rash which is a classic – although not always present – sign of meningitis.

Image copyrightMeningitis Research Foundation
Image caption Amy’s whole body was covered with the characteristic rash

Amy, now 25, recalls: “My mum, being an ex-nurse, knew what it was straightaway and called an ambulance.

“It was really scary. I remember looking at my dad and he looked absolutely terrified so I knew something was seriously wrong.”

Amy developed a serious complication called septicaemia or blood poisoning. The damage that this caused meant she needed her left leg amputated below the knee.

Meningitis facts

  • Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and caused by a number of different pathogens
  • Viral meningitis is the most common and least serious type. Bacterial meningitis is rare but can be very serious if not treated
  • If you are worried that someone is seriously ill with meningitis, trust your instincts and seek urgent medical help. Don’t wait for a “tell-tale” rash
  • There are vaccines that can protect against some forms of meningitis

Treating potential bacterial cases with antibiotics is still the safest approach and doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital will continue to do this during the two-year pilot.

But they will also use the rapid Lamp test to quickly see if their clinical hunches are right.

Researcher Dr Tom Waterfield from Queen’s University, Belfast, said it could also spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net.

“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.”

Rob Dawson, from the Meningitis Research Foundation, said a simple, rapid diagnostic was long overdue.

“There is an urgent need for developments in this area and we look forward to seeing how this test could work in a hospital or healthcare settings.”

The work is funded by the Health and Social Care NI Public Health Agency and by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and is being done in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast, the Paediatric Emergency Research UK & Ireland Network and The Belfast Trust.

Private company Hibergene have patented the Lamp testing equipment that is on loan to the hospital for the study.