Fighting TB

Fighting TB

Tiny tool can aid diagnosis of tuberculosis

Kevin Fennelly, M.D., M.P.H.

A tiny filter could have a big impact around the world in the fight against tuberculosis. Using the traditional microscope-based diagnosis method as a starting point, a UF lung disease specialist and colleagues in Brazil have devised a way to detect more cases of the bacterial infection.

The new technique, which involves vacuum filtering a sputum sample treated with household bleach and other simple chemicals through a small filter, could dramatically improve TB diagnoses globally, particularly in settings where the disease is common and resources are limited. It is especially useful when the presence of only a small number of bacteria in the test sample makes it hard to detect TB. The researchers are refining the technique in hopes of developing a cost-effective product that can be used globally.

“We’re hopeful that this more sensitive method, which is both simple and inexpensive, will improve diagnosis in patients,” said lead researcher Kevin Fennelly, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor in the College of Medicine’s department of medicine and Southeastern Tuberculosis Center, and the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Funded by the World Health Organization and the Núcleo de Doenças Infecciosas infectious disease institute in Brazil, the study appears the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

TB is a treatable disease caused by the microbe Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most often affects the lungs but can also target organs such as the brain, spine and kidneys. TB spreads from person to person through the air.

Once the leading cause of death in the U.S., TB has been largely under control in Western nations. Still, more than 11,000 U.S. cases were reported in 2010, the latest year for which there is comprehensive data. TB causes more deaths than any other bacterial infection and is the most common killer of people living with HIV. — Czerne M. Reid