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FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2011 Mar;61(2):133-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-695X.2010.00766.x. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

New methods for the detection of orthopedic and other biofilm infections.

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Center for Genomic Sciences, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


The detection and identification of bacteria present in natural and industrial ecosystems is now entirely based on molecular systems that detect microbial RNA or DNA. Culture methods were abandoned, in the 1980s, because direct observations showed that <1% of the bacteria in these systems grew on laboratory media. Culture methods comprise the backbone of the Food and Drug Administration-approved diagnostic systems used in hospital laboratories, with some molecular methods being approved for the detection of specific pathogens that are difficult to grow in vitro. In several medical specialties, the reaction to negative cultures in cases in which overt signs of infection clearly exist has produced a spreading skepticism concerning the sensitivity and accuracy of traditional culture methods. We summarize evidence from the field of orthopedic surgery, and from other medical specialties, that support the contention that culture techniques are especially insensitive and inaccurate in the detection of chronic biofilm infections. We examine the plethora of molecular techniques that could replace cultures in the diagnosis of bacterial diseases, and we identify the new Ibis technique that is based on base ratios (not base sequences), as the molecular system most likely to fulfill the requirements of routine diagnosis in orthopedic surgery.

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