Test will aid fight against brain bug will face new test

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A NEW test for meningitis, which can identify the strain of the fatal disease within minutes instead of days, could help the battle against it, scientists said yesterday.

By learning immediately what strain of meningitis a victim is suffering from, doctors will be able to tell whether it is linked with other cases in the neighbourhood and whether vaccination or other measures are necessary.

At present, suspected victims of meningitis and their immediate contacts are given antibiotics as soon as possible to stop the disease in its tracks. However, this has made it difficult to identify the organism responsible before it is killed by the drugs.

The new test, developed by scientists at Cardiff University and the University of Wales College of Medicine, can be conducted on a blood sample taken at the same time as the antibiotics are given.

Trials of the test conducted at five hospitals in Britain over the past year have proved it is superior to traditional culture techniques and is cheaper than DNA testing. Because the diagnosis can be made from a blood sample, it avoids the need for a painful and sometimes dangerous lumbar puncture (extracting spinal fluid through a needle pushed into the spine) which can be done only in hospital.

t The National Meningitis Trust has dismissed its five paid regional fund-raisers and intends to use volunteers. The trust, which expects to raise pounds 2.5m this year, said the move was based on a "business case" but it was criticised by Dr Meirion Evans, public health consultant in South Wales, for its "poor timing". Meningitis cases are running at their highest level for 50 years and South Wales has had 20 cases and five deaths this winter.