infectious_disease_stage

Diagnosing infectious diseases

The importance of access to accurate testing

Published 23 June 2021

Our bodies work constantly to protect us from external threats but when disease is suspected, diagnostic tools help to accurately identify disease and inform appropriate action.

Globalisation can make the world feel like a small place, resulting in a new level proximity that doesn’t just bring people closer together, it allows viruses, bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms to spread more easily.

international-flights-map
There are 467 cities with a population of at least 1 million people1 and the number of international flights exceeds 150,000 each day.2

Globally, infectious diseases are a leading cause of death across all age groups.3 With early identification, treatment is often effective. The reality is, however, that many infections are never diagnosed. Without treatment, curable diseases including pneumonia, tuberculosis and meningitis can become life-threatening. Diseases associated with cancer, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B and hepatitis C, can progress, causing serious complications.4 While our ability to identify and monitor disease has improved from previous generations, there is still much work to be done.

Infectious diseases affect more than just the individual.

The spread of COVID-19 showed the world’s vulnerability to new and emerging disease-causing viruses, for which there are no tests or treatments. Within just a few weeks almost every country reported infections and deaths, billions of people could only leave their homes for essential purposes, economic activity plummeted and healthcare systems quickly became overburdened.5

Unfortunately, this is just one example. Across the globe people face the complexities of infectious disease on a daily basis.

  • Developed countries are faced with a rise in drug-resistant “super bugs” caused by inappropriate use of antibiotics.
  • HIV/AIDS remain a heavy burden for those living in remote areas where access to testing and treatment is limited
  • Managing insect-transmitted diseases, like malaria, Zika, dengue, chikungunya and West Nile virus, are among the greatest challenges on the global health agenda

Improved diagnostic testing strategies have the potential to help individuals, societies and healthcare systems mitigate the impact of disease.

An undiagnosed infection is an untreated one

Diagnostics have become indispensable in identifying and monitoring infectious disease, providing prognoses, determining the best treatment options and predicting treatment responses.6 To manage the wide variety and variability of infectious diseases, comprehensive testing strategies and access to innovative diagnostic tools are essential.

Traditionally, testing is performed in a central laboratory. Advances in automation, test design and analytics are allowing more samples to be processed in less time, but for some infections, time is of the essence. Point-of-care tests, which are performed in close proximity to the patient, such as in an emergency care setting, shorten the time needed to generate results. This allows for earlier identification of infection and initiation of appropriate treatment, which can limit transmission while reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

By administering the right test at the right time, both the quality and cost of care can improve.

A decisive impact on patient care

Between 60% and 70% of medical decisions are based on in vitro diagnostic test results.7 Throughout each patient’s journey, specific tests are used to inform critical decisions at every stage.

  • Blood screening: Every year, over 118 million blood and plasma donations are collected for use in supportive care worldwide.8 Reliable access to safe blood and blood products is essential for patients who require transfusion to maintain or improve their health or to save their lives. Additionally, blood and blood components are used in the manufacturing of therapeutics, which rely on quality screening.
  • Screening for disease prevention: For progressive infections, diagnostic screening tests can help to determine a person’s risk of developing disease. Screening for high-risk HPV, for example, can determine a woman’s likelihood of developing cervical cancer.
  • Diagnosis at an early disease stage: Some infections have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, including hepatitis C virus. Identifying infection in early stages can improve outcomes for patients. While often referred to as a “silent killer,” HCV is curable if caught early.
  • Diagnosis and patient prognosis: Antibiotics have served mankind well, but frequent misuse allows some strains of bacteria to become resistant to treatment. Identifying these strains and determining resistance profiles is a critical next step.
  • Treatment decisions and monitoring: Some infections, like HIV, require sustained therapy. Here, the effectiveness of treatment is determined by measuring viral load—the amount of virus in the body. This helps doctors know if treatment is working or if other options should be explored.


 

adeline

Finding her way

Born with hepatitis, Adeline chooses to face her diagnosis and define her future. Read Adeline’s story

Transforming testing and treatment

Combating the spread of infectious disease has been a priority for us for decades. We have several initiatives in place to help control this broad category of disease.

As new threats emerge and known diseases affect lives, we will continue to work diligently to find innovative solutions to support people and healthcare systems around the world.

References

  1. United Nations. The world’s cities in 2018. https://www.un.org/en/events/citiesday/assets/pdf/the_worlds_cities_in_2018_data_booklet.pdf. Accessed April 7, 2021.
  2. Flightrader24. Charting the decline of air traffic caused by covid-19. shorturl.at/tDPX3. Accessed April 7, 2021.
  3. Young, R O. Market Analysis of Infectious Diseases. Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology. 2019. Volume 3, Issue 2.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Infectious Diseases. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/symptoms-causes/syc-20351173. Accessed April 7, 2021.
  5. Bloom D E, Kuhn M, Prettner K. Modern Infectious Diseases: Macroeconomic Impacts and Policy Responses. NBER. 2020
  6. World Health Organization. A guide to aid the selection of diagnostic tests. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/BLT.16.187468. Accessed April 7, 2021.
  7. The Lewin Group. The Value of Diagnostics: Innovation, Adoption and Diffusion Into Health Care. 2005. http://www.lewin.com/content/dam/Lewin/Resources/Site_Sections/Publications/ValueofDiagnostics.pdf. Accessed April 7, 2001.
  8. World Health Organization. Blood safety and availability. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blood-safety-and-availability. Accessed April 7, 2021.

Tags: Science, Innovation, Society, Patients, Diagnostics, Infectious diseases, Hepatitis, Influenza