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New Test Diagnoses Pneumonia in 10 Minutes


A new test allows clinicians to identify a common type of pneumonia within 10 minutes rather than the days it can now take to make a diagnosis. Researchers at the University of Georgia developed the test with the help of nanotechnology.

Walking pneumonia can be diagnosed in minutes

Current testing methods do not provide physicians with the identity of the causative microorganisms for several days. This is problematic, according to Duncan Krause, a professor in the department of microbiology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. However, “if you can make a positive identification from a 10-minutes test,” he notes, “then appropriate antibiotics can be prescribed, limiting both the consequences in that patient and the likelihood that it will spread to others.”

Krause and his colleagues expanded upon existing technology called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy by using nanorod arrays, which can detect the bacteria responsible for pneumonia in throat swab specimens.

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The culprit bacteria are Mycoplasma pneumonia, which cause a common type of the disease called “walking pneumonia.” Mycoplasmas are the smallest free-living substances that can cause disease in humans, according to the American Lung Association. They usually cause mild, widespread pneumonia that is characterized by a violent cough that produces sparse white mucus, headache, fever, and malaise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 2 million cases of walking pneumonia occur each year in the United States, with approximately 100,000 hospitalizations associated with the infection. It is the leading cause of pneumonia among school-aged children and young adults.

Krause notes that walking pneumonia can hang on for weeks and months and “cause permanent damage to the lungs if not diagnosed promptly.” A delayed diagnosis also increases the chances for complications to develop and for individuals to transmit the infection to others.

Given that infections due to M. pneumonia are also difficult to diagnose, this new test could be most beneficial, as the researchers found that it provided more than 97 percent accuracy. For now, the new 10 minute test for pneumonia has been performed only in a lab, but Krause explained that “our hope is that when we begin to explore the capabilities of this technology, it can be applied in point-of-care testing.”

American Lung Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
University of Georgia news release