LOS ANGELES: Scientists have developed a new test that identifies antibiotic-resistant bacteria in as little as half an hour, an advance that could bolster the fight against superbugs.
Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness due to overuse and misuse. Many species of bacteria have evolved resistance to commonly used antibiotics and multidrug-resistant bacteria or superbugs have emerged, plaguing hospitals and nursing homes.
The test developed at California Institute of Technology in the US focused on one of the most common types of infections in humans, urinary tract infections (UTIs), which 50 percent of women contract during their lifetimes.
When doctors treat patients with bacterial infections, they often skip over first-line antibiotics like methicillin or amoxicillin - drugs that bacteria are more likely to be resistant to - and go straight for stronger second-line antibiotics, like ciprofloxacin.
This practice increases the chance that the treatment will be effective, but it is not ideal. That is because the increased use of second-line antibiotics makes it more likely that bacteria also will become resistant to these stronger drugs.
"Right now, we're overprescribing, so we're seeing resistance much sooner than we have to for a lot of the antibiotics that we would otherwise want to preserve for more serious situations," said Nathan Schoepp, a graduate student at Caltech.
The problem is that there has not been a quick and easy way for a doctor to know if their patient's infection is resistant to particular antibiotics.
To find out, the doctor would have to send a sample to a testing lab and wait two to three days for an answer.
"Therapies are driven by guidelines developed by organisations like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention without knowing what the patient actually has because the tests are so slow,"
said Rustem Ismagilov, a professor at Jacobs Institute for Molecular Engineering for Medicine.
"We can change the world with a rapid test like this. We can change the way antibiotics are prescribed," said Ismagilov.
The new test that could be completed during a single visit to the doctor's office.
Researchers hope to tweak the testing procedures to work with blood samples.
Blood infections are more difficult to test because the bacteria are present in much lower numbers than they are in urine, but such a test could help reduce mortality from blood-borne infections, which can turn fatal if not treated quickly, they said.