Continuing Medical Education

Diagnosis of bacterial infection

T H Boyles, S Wasserman

Abstract


Accurate diagnosis of bacterial infection is crucial to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use and to focus appropriate therapy. Bacterial infection
is the combination of the presence of bacteria and inflammation or systemic dysfunction; therefore, more than one diagnostic modality is
usually required for confirmation. History and examination to determine if a patient fits a clinical case definition is sometimes adequate to
confirm or exclude a diagnosis. The second stage is bedside tests – some are used widely, such as urine dipstick tests, but others, such as skin
scrapings of petechial rashes, are underutilised. The third stage is laboratory tests – indirect non-culture-based tests, including C-reactive
protein and procalcitonin tests, when negative, can be used to prevent the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Direct non-culture-based tests
detect antigens or specific antibodies, e.g. group A streptococcal antigen testing can be employed to reduce antibiotic use. Culture-based
tests are often considered the reference standard in modern microbiology. Because of slow turnaround times, these tests are frequently
used to focus or stop antibiotic therapy after empiric initiation. Nucleic acid amplification tests raise the possibility of detecting organisms
with high sensitivity, specificity and reduced turnaround time, and novel diagnostic modalities relying on nanotechnology and mass
spectrometry may dramatically alter the practice of microbiology in future.


Authors' affiliations

T H Boyles, Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, South Africa

S Wasserman, Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Bacteria; Infection

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2015;105(5):419. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.9647

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-09-17
Date published: 2015-09-17

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