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Sepsis being researched at Butler Memorial Hospital

Dr. Robert Patterson, director of pathology at Butler Memorial Hospital, stands in front of equipment used to diagnose sepsis at the hospital. Submitted photo

Butler Memorial Hospital is using an uncommon piece of technology in an uncommon way to diagnose sepsis early to obtain better treatment outcomes.

Dr. Robert Patterson, director of pathology at the hospital, is studying monocyte distribution width biomarkers in a person’s blood and the utilization of rapid species identification tests, independent of blood culture, to identify sepsis in patients.

This work is important, he said, because sepsis can still be a deadly disease if not treated efficiently.

“It’s an issue all over the country and the world,” Patterson said. “It’s when you get a bloodstream infection, particularly bacteria … and when that happens, you are at very significant risk of dying if you don’t get treatment.”

Patterson said Butler Memorial Hospital acquired technology that can measure changes in a person’s blood cells which have the potential to lead to sepsis. The Beckman Coulter automation line was previously only used in Europe, and the one at Butler Memorial Hospital is the first used in a hospital in the U.S. and one of only a few in the world, he said.

What typically takes 36 hours or more to identify through standard-of-care blood culture testing, T2 Biosystems panels identify in three to five hours, speeding up diagnosis and treatment, said a news release from the hospital.

Butler Memorial Hospital looks at monocyte distribution width using the Beckman, and then uses the T2 panels to see if there is a higher risk of developing sepsis, according to Patterson.

“Monocytes are a circulating blood cell that if you have bacteria in the blood ... they found that if the white blood cell count was abnormal, it also affects those monocytes,” Patterson said. “They found that if the white blood cell count was abnormal, because if you have a bacterial infection, particularly sepsis, it goes up.”

Sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition that occurs due to complications from other infections in the body, causing organ and tissue damage if left untreated. Various infections can lead to sepsis, including bacterial, viral and fungal, according to Butler Memorial Hospital.

Although sepsis is not contagious, the infections that cause it can be. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1.7 million people in the United States develop sepsis, and 350,000 adults die from complications each year.

Patterson said identifying the type of sepsis afflicting a person is important to treat them correctly and efficiently.

“The instruments are all out there, just no one has thought to do it this way before,” Patterson said. “And it improves treatments because you determine what it is quicker.”

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