A hospital A&E department in Northern Ireland is to start using a new, rapid test for meningitis that should speed up diagnosis and save lives. Meningitis can kill in hours yet the current way to positively identify the infection takes about two days. UK researchers say the new test that the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children will use gives results in under 60 minutes. This should let doctors treat fast and accurately, rather than “just in case”.  Speedy treatment is vital because the infection can quickly overwhelm the body, and symptoms may not be obvious until it is dangerously advanced. At the moment, doctors rely on clinical judgement to decide whether antibiotics are urgently needed. They err on the side of caution, which means some patients are given treatment they don’t need.  However, on rare occasions cases can be missed, which is where a rapid “Lamp” (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples could help. Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common in babies, children and teenagers or young adults.  Amy Davis was 18 when she became severely ill with meningitis. Initially, she thought she just had a simple case of flu.  Hours later, her body was covered head-to-toe in the alarming blotchy purple rash which is a classic – although not always present – sign of meningitis.  Amy, now 25, recalls: “My mum, being an ex-nurse, knew what it was straightaway and called an ambulance. “It was really scary. I remember looking at my dad and he looked absolutely terrified so I knew something was seriously wrong.” Amy developed a serious complication called septicaemia or blood poisoning. The damage that this caused meant she needed her left leg amputated below the knee.

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