Tech to helpdetect pathogens

We are surrounded by germs and microbes, some of which are harmless. However, there are some that can disrupt normal body functions. Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms(pathogens) like bacteria, virus and fungi.

These diseases are communicable which means they can spread, directly or indirectly from one individual to another. Apart from direct contact, infections can also spread through coughing or sneezing, contaminated food and water, air and vector-borne transmission. Malaria, measles, pneumonia, mumps, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid are common infectious diseases. 

Healthcare-associated infection (HAI) is an infection occurring in a patient during the process of care in a hospital or other health care facility. The most prominent types of hospital-acquired infections are TB, pneumonia, sepsis infections of the central nervous system like meningitis, Acute Encephalitis etc.

According to WHO, one in 10 patients acquires an infection while receiving care. The current incidence rate shows that the burden of HAI is higher in low-and middle-income countries than in high-income ones. 

Once the person is affected by an infection, the doctor carries out tests to diagnose the causative microorganism. The culture test is a common method of diagnosing infectious disease.

In culture tests, the microbes are grown in-vitro (outside the body in a controlled environment) which will help clinicians identify the disease-causing microbe. Recent studies have shown the utility of molecular techniques in the fast, accurate and precise diagnosis of the causative microorganism, enabling the treating clinicians to take timely action. 

The way these tests work is analysing the presence of genes from bacteria, viruses and fungi in the patient sample. Certain novel, patented technologies like syndrome evaluation system by Bengaluru-based firm XCyton Diagnostics have leveraged these advancements. One of the greatest advantages of using these technologies is quick results, taking only eight hours of processing time.

Furthermore, this technology is based on the identification of genes, it can also reveal if there is any resistance causing mutations in the genes of these organisms. This knowledge helps clinicians opt for targeted therapy that is effective on the patient from day one.

The clear picture about disease-causing micro-organisms that molecular diagnostics provide also helps in deciding the antibiotic regimen for the patient at two levels.

The test reports that indicate not only the presence, but also the absence of organisms in the patient sample help clinicians start or stop the prescription of antibiotics. Adding an antibiotic due to the presence of an unsuspected microorganism helps cure the condition faster and removing an antibiotic due to absence of previously suspected microorganism helps curb unnecessary use of antibiotics— commonly referred as antibiotic de-escalation. 

The conventional technology currently available for diagnosis of infectious diseases is inadequate to help in early diagnosis and to institute specific therapy in critical illnesses, resulting in loss of function or even loss of life. In certain scenarios, the molecular diagnostics of infection-causing microorganisms can be life-saving.

(The writer is head of scientific affairs, MedGenome Labs)

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