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CFVH tackles Molecular DNA testing for dangerous bacteria

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

by Carolyn Hidy, The Sanders County Ledger

One thing you don't want to get in the hospital: a bacterial infection from Clostridium difficile. This little doozy can cause big trouble – high fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps – and can lead to even bigger problems such as dehydration, peritonitis, or colitis. Just what you don't need when you're in the hospital for some other problem. This bacteria can, however, also be acquired outside of the hospital in your own home:

If you've been on antibiotics, the population of protective bacteria is reduced in your bowel. This can allow other bacteria, especially those developing resistance to antibiotics including the highly contagious Clostridium, to grow out of control and produce toxins. It's those toxins that can cause all the grief.

Until recently, it has been very difficult to detect, and therefore fight, these bacteria reliably. But Erika Jaegers and her coworkers at Clark Fork Valley Hospital's microbiology lab are now at the cutting edge of Clostridium detection.

Jaegers recently completed two semesters of molecular diagnostics through Michigan State University online. This allowed her to bring state of the art molecular DNA testing to Sanders County, making highly accurate detection of Clostridium toxins possible when it is just barely getting started in your system. This might be especially welcome news if you realize this means the lab team can now detect the bacterium with 96% accuracy, with only one stool sample, instead of several. And they can find the little bugger before its toxins build up enough in your system to start causing real trouble.

"I learned in this class that this could be done even in our small facility. So we jumped at the chance," says an excited Jaegers. With support from her boss, lab manager Tom Olding, the entire lab staff received training this summer in the principles of the test and use of the analyzer. Jaegers' schooling adds the scientific background necessary to troubleshoot and interpret unexpected or non-standard results.

"To have a molecular test is a big deal for any health care facility," Jaegers says. "Like the rest of the hospital, we are state-of-the-art. This is the future of the laboratory."

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