By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – The idea of using DNA testing is associated by most people with finding a murder suspect.
But at Lakeview Regional Medical Center the use of DNA testing may address a very different situation that could help change the course of a growing problem in our world.
Lakeview became the first hospital on the North Shore to begin using a machine known as Bio Fire, a cutting edge piece of technology that can provide DNA test results in only one hour, compared to many previous tests that had to be sent away to labs that might take weeks or months.
However, Bio Fire isn’t being used to find murder suspects, or deal with criminals in any way.
It is being utilized to identify specific viruses, bacteria or funguses.
The great advantage in that for the health care field is that patients are being diagnosed very specifically in only one hour so physicians can be certain what virus or bacteria they have. The result is that the overuse of antibiotics is being reduced in a tremendous way as doctors no longer have to make an educated guess about how to treat the infection.
Dr. Pamela Bartholomew, Lakeview Regional’s laboratory medical director, said that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in our world is much more of a problem than many people realize.
“We can’t keep giving so many antibiotics to patients,” she said. “Antibiotics destroy all the good bacteria in your system, not to mention the fact that organisms become immune to them when you use them too much.
“We are hurting our communities as a whole by handing out so many antibiotics,” she added. “We must be judicious in our use of them and Bio Fire is making a tremendous difference in when or how we use antibiotics.”
Bartholomew said that it is quite common for patients to show up and immediately request antibiotics for what might appear to be the common cold or flu symptoms.
“Too many people do not realize that a cold or flu is a virus and that is not treated with antibiotics,” she said. “That won’t help you get better from a cold or flu bug.”
However, she said it is very common for parents to come to the ER with a child who has cold symptoms and be certain antibiotics were the answer.
“We see that so much now,” she said. “But it’s not good to use them for the wrong situation. Our Bio Fire machine is helping us make a correct diagnosis in only one hour so we are not prescribing antibiotics when not needed and patients get better faster.”
Bartholomew further explained that the previous lab testing methods, which could take weeks or days to grow a culture and try to find the specific infection—whether it is a bacteria, fungus or virus—took so long that “sometimes a patient might be dead by the time we got an answer.”
While that is fortunately not the case in most situations, a patient could easily suffer with symptoms from the infection for a long time before a physician finally got the correct answer from testing.
“Sometimes we would grow a culture, wait two weeks, and still not get the right answer,” she said. “Bio Fire is giving us the right answer now in only an hour.
“I remember many years ago when they talked about a machine that could do this and now we have it,” she added. “It is truly the most exciting development I’ve seen in the lab in 25 years.”
The Bio Fire machine, with computer, cost slightly over $22,000 to purchase, however, hospital officials said that each test can be in the $1,000 range to run. However, compared to days and weeks of incorrect testing and perhaps hospital stays, Bio Fire is seen as a great cost saver.
Carolyn Biggio, a Lakeview medical technologist who has worked in the lab since 1991, said that another great aspect about Bio Fire is that it is so simple to use that every lab tech was trained how to operate it with no problems.
“This is so easy to use that we immediately had everyone doing it,” Biggio said. “That reduces the chance of someone coming to the ER at a time that we don’t have key staff members who can use this. It’s so simple the entire staff can do it.”
Lab techs only need some kind of sample from a patient, such as a mouth swab, blood sample or other, and they administer it to a plastic pouch that separates the sample into different panels that are tested. In only one hour a computer prints out detailed results covering a multitude of viruses or bacteria, enabling a physician to positively know how to address the problem.
Bartholomew said Bio Fire has been utilized in many situations already, diagnosing correct answers for addressing multiple food poisoning cases they had, patients with meningitis, “Cruise Ship Virus,” or what is known as “Travelers Virus” that is brought back from visits overseas.
“It was not uncommon when we saw symptoms presenting as meningitis to put the patient on antibiotics, but now we are finding the exact infection cause, which has told us at times to use steroids instead of antibiotics,” she explained.
Bartholomew is more specifically a pathologist, meaning she is involved in the study of diseases as a medical doctor. She said that pathology drew her in “because it covers the entire breadth and depth of diseases. I knew I would never get bored doing this,” she said after finishing her studies at Tulane.
Blood work is one of the most important tests to identifying the problem a patient has and the idea of getting very detailed results back in one hour, compared to weeks or months, was clearly exciting to Bartholomew.
“I have seen many cases of antibiotics used initially in a patient as we waited for results of testing,” she said. “And many were unneeded.
“This new way of testing and getting results in one hour is going to save money for hospitals and patients, and most importantly, get correct answers fast for patients,” she said. “And that’s really what everyone wants when they go to a doctor or the hospital—fast answers.”