If made available through the NHS, this test would significantly reduce the time taken to diagnose the disease and minimise the risk of misdiagnosis.
The new test, developed by a team at Imperial College London, is a major breakthrough in the rapid diagnosis of meningitis and sepsis in children and could allow treatment to begin much earlier, saving hundreds of lives and reducing the risk of life-changing after-effects.
The signs and symptoms of meningitis are notoriously difficult to diagnose, and can be dismissed as a cold or flu. Many young children presenting the early symptoms of the disease are initially sent home, before being rushed back to hospital a few hours later as their condition rapidly deteriorates.
Currently, doctors grow bacteria in a sample of blood, in a process which can take up to 48 hours.
Liz Brown, CEO at Meningitis Now said: “A delay in life-saving treatment for bacterial meningitis can be a matter of life or death. We welcome this significant progress in the development of a rapid test for meningitis and sepsis.
“We would however, continue to advise people to know the signs and symptoms of meningitis and to seek immediate medical attention if they have any concerns”.
The study led by Professor Michael Levin has shown that a bacterial infection can be distinguished from other causes of fever, such as a viral infection, using a pattern of genes that are switched on or off in response to an infection.
A larger project will now begin to develop these findings into a pin-prick diagnostic test, which Professor Levin believes could be available through the NHS within five years.
For support and advice on meningitis call the Meningitis Now Helpline on 0808 80 10 388.
For more information or to donate visit the website at www.MeningitisNow.org