TB screening is missing the majority of cases
Research has found that the current Tuberculosis (TB) screening process – which involves chest x-rays – fails to detect up to 70 per cent of cases of the infection in immigrants arriving in the UK.
It is thought that blood tests would be a more effective screening method, being able to detect 90 per cent of cases of TB.
Blood tests will be able to identify latent infections – those which are present but are inactive in the body – whereas chest x-rays can only detect active infections.
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The researchers from Imperial College London said that if dormant cases of TB are found, carriers would be able to take a course of antibiotics to prevent them developing an active form of the disease.
TB is a bacterial infection which normally stays asymptomatic in the body, meaning that it is inactive and there are no symptoms. When the disease becomes active it attacks the lungs and approximately half of sufferers die from it.
The new findings back up guidelines which were updated in March by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on TB screening.
In Britain incidents of TB have risen dramatically in recent years and the researchers believe that this is due to a 98 per cent increase in cases of TB in people who move to Britain from overseas.
Current legislation requires the testing of all immigrants from countries which have a TB incidence higher than 40 in every 100,000 people per year.
The researchers said that when entering the country, the majority of immigrants have an inactive form of the disease, which then progresses in to the full-blown form of the illness a few years after their arrival.
Professor Ajit Lalvani, the director of TB research at Imperial College London, said: “By treating people at that early stage, we can prevent them from developing a serious illness and becoming infectious.”
“Crucially, this wider screening could substantially reduce TB incidence while remaining cost-effective. Our findings provide the missing evidence-base for the new national strategy to expand immigrant screening.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: “Tuberculosis is a global problem and sustained action is needed to detect, diagnose and treat cases earlier. We are funding TB Alert, the UK's national TB charity, to increase awareness of TB among primary healthcare professionals and the public.”
“We are pleased that this research backs up the latest NICE guidance on TB screening. We expect the local NHS to consider the best ways of tackling this issue in their area.”