Bacterial meningitis is usually severe and diagnosing it in tiny children can be traumatic even for the clinical staff. Only weeks old babies have to undergo lumbar punctures in order to sample their cerebrospinal fluid.
A lumbar puncture is a medical procedure where a needle is inserted into the lower part of the spine to test for conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord or other parts of the nervous system. In children, repeat punctures are often performed before a proper sample is drawn.
Now a new method that relies on ultrasound may soon lead to a noninvasive bacterial meningitis test, avoiding spinal taps altogether.
Some scientists from Spain and UK have developed a special ultrasound device that is placed above the fontanelle, the soft tissue area that exists in newborns before the cranial bones come together and fuse.
Since spinal fluid is present within the fontanelle, evaluating its nature can point to the existence of a bacterial infection.
The scientists developed a computer algorithm that processes the imaging data obtained from the ultrasound device tuned to focus on the cerebrospinal fluid, and offers an evaluation of whether an infection is present.
The researchers tested the technology on infected animal tissue samples, as well as on a few real human babies, concluding that this technique may very well make spinal taps obsolete when evaluating small children for bacterial meningitis.