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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common infections that account for more than 10 million doctor and hospital visits in the U.S. every year, according to MedicineNet author Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP. Now scientists from the University of Bath have developed a test that quickly diagnoses UTIs using a smartphone camera in under 30 minutes.
Traditional rapid-diagnosis test strips can quickly determine whether bacteria is present in a urine sample, but the strips cannot tell what kind of bacteria is causing the infection. It takes up to several days to get the results of urinalysis testing back from a lab, which identifies the microorganism causing the UTI.
This lag time of several days before bacteria are properly identified leads to over-prescription of antibiotics, which may increase the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
“The culprit in at least 90% of uncomplicated infections is a type of bacteria called Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli,” according to Dr. Balentine. However, other microorganisms can sometimes cause UTIs.
The smartphone-based test developed by UK researchers quickly identifies and quantifies bacteria in samples, which may one day assist in the fight against antimicrobial resistant bacterial strains.
The test involves passing a urine sample over a plastic microcapillary strip with ridges that contain an antibody that recognizes E. coli, according to the study published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. If E. coli is present in the sample, antibodies will bind to it. An enzyme is added that then causes a color change which is detectable by a smartphone camera.
The researchers intend to further develop the test so that is has the ability to detect other microorganisms that cause UTIs, according to study author Dr. Nuno M. Reis. Further research and clinical trials are necessary before the test is approved for use.
The possibility of smartphone-assisted diagnosis of UTIs may be especially attractive for developing nations because the test is inexpensive, simple, and does not require a power supply. It also uses chemicals (reagents) that are widely available. The smartphone reads the test, eliminating the need for a human reader, according to the study.
Dr. Balentine states that antibiotic treatment usually brings complete resolution of the infection for people with uncomplicated bladder infections or kidney infections. Urinary tract infections that are not treated promptly may lead to more serious complications, Dr. Balentine said. People who have a suspected UTI should see their health care providers promptly to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.