A dressing that changes colour when it detects infection has been developed by scientists in a bid to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.
It is hoped the prototype will help clinicians recognise infection more easily and encourage targeted use of antibiotics for treatment rather than prevention, particularly in children’s burns.
Currently, antibiotics are prescribed to stop infection from developing because existing methods for diagnosing infection can take up to 48 hours and require removing the dressing which can be painful.
“Using this dressing will allow clinicians to quickly identify infections without removing it, meaning that patients can be diagnosed and treated faster”
Children with wounds resulting from burns are particularly susceptible to bacterial infections because of their immature immune systems, and so are often given antibiotics as a precaution.
But the overuse of antibiotics across the health service has repeatedly been flagged as a cause for concern in recent years, due to increasing antimicrobial resistance.
Designed by Bath University in collaboration with Brighton University and the Healing Foundation Children’s Burns Research Centre at Bristol Children’s Hospital, the new dressing releases fluorescent dye when triggered by the toxins secreted by disease-causing bacteria.
“The nanocapsules [containing the dye] mimic skin cells in that they only break open when toxic bacteria are present. They aren’t affected by the harmless bacteria that normally live on healthy skin,” said Dr Toby Jenkins, reader in biophysical chemistry at the University of Bath, who is leading the project.
Dr Amber Young and Dr Toby Jenkins
“Using this dressing will allow clinicians to quickly identify infections without removing it, meaning that patients can be diagnosed and treated faster. It could really help to save lives,” he added.
Dr Amber Young, clinical lead at the Healing Foundation Children’s Burns Research Centre, said: “Children are at particular risk of serious infection from even a small burn. However, with current methods clinicians can’t tell whether a sick child might have a raised temperature due to a serious bacterial burn wound infection, or just from a simple cough or cold.”
A team including research nurses will be testing the dressing with adult and child patients at both the Queen Victoria Hospital in West Sussex and Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Dr Young said research nurses were “vital” to the testing process and were already involved in collecting blister fluid from children with burns as part of the pilot work for the project.
“They [research nurses] will be involved in recruiting patients, collecting samples, data collection and very importantly taking time to understand patient and parent views on the research project and the dressing,” she told Nursing Times.
Following testing, it is expected the dressing will be available for use in hospitals in around four years’ time.