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New Look at Old Test May Provide Earlier Detection of Meningitis

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Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found a more accurate method to screen for bacterial meningococcal infection in its early stages, when it's hardest to detect. According to the researchers, the method for diagnosis could save lives by getting patients treatment earlier, when the infection is most treatable.

While meningococcal infection is relatively rare, affecting approximately 2,500 people per year in the United States, it is a devastating disease. It kills seven to 15 percent of those who acquire the infection, and often causes permanent complications for survivors, such as brain damage and hearing loss. Many patients also require amputation of limbs because the disease can cause severe tissue damage to extremities.

Immediate treatment is important in meningococcal infection because it usually progresses rapidly within eight to twelve hours. Some patients may die within as little as 12 to 24 hours after onset of symptoms, which can include a sudden high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and mental confusion. About half of patients with the infection have a rash.

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