New tool for assessing dehydration is built for global deployment

two women working in lab
A study program coordinator demonstrates a stool culture to a local health worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of Adam C. Levine, M.D.)

By Doug Bennett

For adults and older children, dehydration from diarrhea is a common, pervasive threat: Annually, more than 1 million die from it.

Now, a novel software tool that makes diagnosing and treating diarrhea-related dehydration faster, simpler and more accurate has been launched by an international team that includes University of Florida Health researcher Eric J. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor with UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions‘ department of environmental and global health and the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.

The solution is as unique as the problem is massive. Worldwide, there are 5.7 billion cases of diarrhea a year among adults and older children. Even so, there has not been a convenient, easy-to-use, evidence-based tool for assessing dehydration in patients.

Seeing a large and urgent need, researchers at UF Health, Brown University and in Bangladesh teamed up to create FluidCalc. Using an algorithm that runs through a cell phone app, FluidCalc quickly and consistently determines the extent of a patient’s dehydration and calculates how much fluid they need. The tool uses two primary algorithms for those under and over 5 years of age.

“There’s a lot less left to chance if you have an evidence-based algorithm doing this instead of trying to determine each patient’s needs,” Nelson said. His contributions included developing the software that powers FluidCalc.

To evaluate the new algorithm those over age 5, the researchers analyzed data from 1,580 people who were patients at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Patients were weighed on arrival and again every four hours. They were then assessed by two nurses using the digital tool and also established World Health Organization guidelines for dehydration severity.

FluidCalc outperformed the WHO algorithm at distinguishing severe dehydration from the absence of severe dehydration, the researchers found. The tool more accurately identified patients with severe dehydration as well as those without dehydration. The findings were published recently in the journal The Lancet Global Health.

Read the full story in the UF Health newsroom