This year’s flu has been hitting the nation especially hard, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has listed the virus’ hold on Utah as widespread. In Utah County alone there have been nine flu-related deaths.
To help counteract the illness, hospitals across the state have been turning to a Utah-developed technology that has drastically cut the time it takes doctors to learn whether at patient is sick with the flu, or not.
The technology, called FilmArray respiratory test, was developed by BioFire Diagnostics. Swabs taken from sick patients are inserted into the machine with little technician involvement. This translates to a decrease in the possibility of sample contamination according to Jeremy Wallentine, a pathologist at Intermountain Central Laboratory.
“Every time a human hand touches or gets involved with the sample there’s a chance for contamination and error,” Wallentine said. “By putting everything into a single pouch, into a single machine and have it run from sample in, to result out without any intervention by a human hand really reduces any chance for error contamination.”
Previous tests for the flu took six hours, and because they were diagnosed in batches, the time between a doctor sending a sample in and finding out what their patient had could take 12 hours. The new technology has cut that down to just two.
“Being able to provide physicians with fast and accurate results allows them to triage and treat patients more appropriately so they can tailor the patient’s treatment to what the patient actually has,” Wallentine said.
Another added benefit of the technology, Wallentine said, has been getting patients with viral infections off prescribed antibiotics, which provide no health benefit.
“If they have a viral illness they can have the antibiotics discontinued earlier on, and being able to discontinue antibiotics at an earlier time point helps fight the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Wallentine said.