FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016

Scientists develop reaction test for deadly fungal meningitis

U.S. scientists recently developed a real-time polymerase chain reaction test for the rapid detection of the Exserohilum rostratum pathogen that caused last year's fungal meningitis outbreak.

David S. Perlin developed the assay with Yanan Zhao and other researchers at the Public Health Research Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology determined the assay was highly accurate and effective in efficiently detecting the fungus.

"The assay is a highly sensitive and robust method for early detection of the fungus in patients who might be infected but do not yet show symptoms, and also to monitor the progress of ongoing medical treatment," Perlin said.

Prior to the development of the assay, public health officials and clinicians were limited in detecting the fungus in clinical samples because fungus tends not to be free-floating in samples such as cerebrospinal fluid. The PCR assay allows investigators to detect a wide range of genomic DNA from E. rostratum in amounts as small as 100 femtograms. A femtogram is equal to a quadrillionth of a gram.

"It is estimated that some 13,534 people received injections that might have exposed them to this fungus during the recent outbreak," Perlin said. "We don't know the exact timeline for development of disease, and so we are not sure whether these patients are still are at risk. Using an assay such as this to detect possible infection in those patients could ease their minds if results are negative, or lead them to receive therapy in time to prevent future illness if results are positive."

The fungal pathogen was primarily responsible for 39 deaths among patients that were injected last year with a contaminated steroid medication.