Non-Invasive Method Improve Bacterial Infection Treatment in Infants

New method can quickly and effectively diagnose infections with a small amount of blood.

Findings from a recent study suggest that a novel method could be a quick and effective way to test for bacterial infections in infants.

The novel method requires a small blood sample, and could potentially be less invasive than the current treatment, which requires isolating live bacteria from blood, urine, or spinal fluid, and then grow them in the laboratory, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Physicians who must evaluate infants (2-months-old or younger) for infections causing an illness do not have many speedy and accurate diagnostic tools. While waiting for results from a standard test, physicians may prescribe antibiotics that could be deemed unnecessary after the results are received.

“The development of a fast and noninvasive diagnostic tool holds promise for better outcomes and lower treatment costs for young infants with fevers of unknown cause,” said Valerie Maholmes, PhD, chief of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch.

With the use of genetic sequencing technology, researchers were able to explore ways to assess the immune response biosignature.

“Previous studies have suggested that analyzing immune cell biosignatures can distinguish between bacterial and viral infections in children and adults,” said Ruth Brenner, MD, MPH, an NICHD program officer. “However, scientists were uncertain if this approach would work in young infants because of their immature immune systems.”

In the study, researchers enrolled infants receiving treatment in emergency departments. There were 1800 total infants with fevers enrolled.

Researchers tested samples from randomly selected infants. There were 89 infants who had bacterial infections, 190 who did not have bacterial infections, and 19 infants without fever tested.

The researchers discovered a biosignature of 66 genes measured in a small blood samples. Researchers were able to determine which infants did and did not have an infection.

Importantly, the origin of the infection was discovered as well, according to the study. Researchers also found that 10 genes specifically identified blood infections in this group.

The method was able to identify a positive sample 94% of the time. This method could lead to a fast and noninvasive test to diagnose infections in infants, but more work is needed to create the optimal approach, the study concluded.