Scientists are reporting a major advance in diagnosing tuberculosis: A new test can reveal in less than two hours, with very high accuracy, whether someone has the disease and if it’s resistant to the main drug for treating it.
The test could revolutionize TB care and replace the 125-year-old process used now, which is slow and misses more than half of all cases, experts say. A better test would be a powerful tool to curb TB in poor countries, where most people spread the lung disease before they are diagnosed and treated, and many don’t return for follow-up doctor visits to get test results.
In the United States, it could be a big help in inner city clinics, where diagnosing a drug-resistant strain on someone’s first visit enables proper treatment right away.
“You can tell the patient before they leave the office if they have TB and if it’s drug-resistant. It’s transformational,” said Dr. Peter Small, head of TB programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the work, along with the U.S. government.
The World Health Organization will meet with experts over the next few days to review results and plan steps forward, says a statement from one of its TB experts, Dr. Mario Raviglione.
“These results suggest that it has the potential to revolutionize TB care, and WHO will treat it as a top priority,” the statement says.
A study of the test was published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.