New Microbiological Techniques for the Diagnosis of Bacterial Infections and Sepsis in ICU Including Point of Care

Curr Infect Dis Rep. 2021;23(8):12. doi: 10.1007/s11908-021-00755-0. Epub 2021 Jun 16.


Purpose of review: The aim of this article is to review current and emerging microbiological techniques that support the rapid diagnosis of bacterial infections in critically ill patients, including their performance, strengths and pitfalls, as well as available data evaluating their clinical impact.

Recent findings: Bacterial infections and sepsis are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality in patients admitted to the intensive care unit and their management is further complicated by the increase in the global burden of antimicrobial resistance. In this setting, new diagnostic methods able to overcome the limits of traditional microbiology in terms of turn-around time and accuracy are highly warranted. We discuss the following broad themes: optimisation of existing culture-based methodologies, rapid antigen detection, nucleic acid detection (including multiplex PCR assays and microarrays), sepsis biomarkers, novel methods of pathogen detection (e.g. T2 magnetic resonance) and susceptibility testing (e.g. morphokinetic cellular analysis) and the application of direct metagenomics on clinical samples. The assessment of the host response through new "omics" technologies might also aid in early diagnosis of infections, as well as define non-infectious inflammatory states.

Summary: Despite being a promising field, there is still scarce evidence about the real-life impact of these assays on patient management. A common finding of available studies is that the performance of rapid diagnostic strategies highly depends on whether they are integrated within active antimicrobial stewardship programs. Assessing the impact of these emerging diagnostic methods through patient-centred clinical outcomes is a complex challenge for which large and well-designed studies are awaited.

Keywords: Antimicrobial resistance; Bloodstream infection; Critical care; Rapid diagnostics; Sepsis.

Publication types

  • Review