Rapid blood test to diagnose sepsis could save thousands of lives

Posted: 21/10/2013


The Health Service Ombudsman published a report on World Sepsis Day (13 September 2013) which found there were significant failings in the treatment of sepsis. Research published in the journal Public Library of Science demonstrates that a blood test has been produced which can diagnose sepsis within two hours and has an accuracy of 86%.

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening illness where the body overreacts to an infection. It causes around 37,000 deaths in the UK each year. This figure is more than the number of deaths attributable to breast and bowel cancer combined. Sepsis causes fever, inflammation and blood pressure and clotting problems that can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Its typical causes include pneumonia, urinary infection, pressure sores and severe skin infections.

Current methods of diagnosing sepsis can take up to two days but the production of this blood test will hopefully reduce the number of cases where there are delays in diagnosis and treatment of the condition. However, early studies at King’s College London suggest that a simple blood test can be used to give a vital early warning and diagnose the condition in two hours.The blood test detects a molecule in the blood which is specific to sepsis and therefore the test rules out similar conditions that have symptoms akin to sepsis. More research into the blood test is needed and trials are being planned but it is hoped that the test could be available in the NHS in about two years.

Mark Fielder, Medical Microbiologist at Kingston University London, said: “An early intervention in these cases can often result in a much improved result for the patient.”

Emma Beeson of the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches commented: “We deal with a number of cases involving a late diagnosis of sepsis – often with catastrophic effects. Anything that would assist in spotting early development of sepsis so that treatment can be instigated is to be welcomed and could have a very beneficial effect for a large number of people."


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