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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
E-nose to 'sniff out' superbugs
Image of MRSA
There are still some antibiotics to treat MRSA
Scientists have made an electronic nose device to help spot the MRSA superbug in hospitals.

Tests at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital on ear, nose and throat swabs from 600 patients showed the e-nose is close to 100% accurate at detecting infections.

It works by recognising the smell-print of Staphylococcus bacteria - the cocktail of compounds these bugs give off - providing results in minutes.

New Scientist reported on the Warwick University work.

E-nose

Similar e-noses have already been developed to sniff out other infections and cancers.

The e-nose created by surgeon David Morgan and engineer Ritaban Dutta and colleagues can sit on a doctor's desk and analyse gasses given off by swabs from patients for signs of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other strains of Staph aureus.

It will sniff, make a pattern out of the smell and give you the probable output
Dr Ritaban Dutta

Getting a quick result is important for hospital screening and isolating infected patients to prevent disease outbreaks.

The e-nose gives a result within minutes, which is much faster than the current way of analysing ear, nose and throat swabs, which involves sending samples off to the lab and waiting 72 hours for a result.

Tests on hospital patients showed it could correctly detect three strains of Staph aureus, including MRSA, with more than 99% accuracy.

However, it cannot yet distinguish MRSA from its close cousin MSSA (methicillin-sensitive Staph aureus), which does respond to convetional antibiotics unlike MRSA.

Screening

Mr Morgan said that if it cannot be trained to do so, it could be used as a quick screening system to prioritise which patients or healthcare workers need more rigorous testing.

Experts have been looking at DNA tests which could spot the difference between MSSA and MRSA in about two hours.

If you could exclude 70% of the population with this test, that would be a bonus in terms of the number of people you would want to screen further
Dr Donald Morrison from the Scottish MRSA Reference Laboratory

Dr Dutta said the e-nose could be used in all hospitals in a year or two, with adequate funding.

"It can be used by anyone - it does not have to be a pathologist in a lab. It will sniff, make a pattern out of the smell and give you the probable output. And it's virtually instantaneous."

Dr Donald Morrison from the Scottish MRSA Reference Laboratory said about 30% of people are carriers of Staph aureus, some of which will be the more threatening MRSA.

While some people with MRSA do not fall ill, those who are already sick and frail can develop serious problems and even die.

"If you could exclude 70% of the population with this test, that would be a bonus in terms of the number of people you would want to screen further.

"You could then focus your efforts on the other 30%."




SEE ALSO:
Electronic nose 'sniffs out cancer'
07 May 03 |  UK Politics


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