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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 00:06 GMT
TB test 'could catch carriers'
TB bacteria
Many people carry TB without knowing it
People who are carrying tuberculosis but who have not yet fallen ill with the disease could be identified using a new test.

One of the main sources of infection in the UK is people arriving from abroad with the bacteria that cause TB already in their lungs.

These people may not have a single clinical sign of the illness, but can still go on to infect others if they fall ill.


The test is needed as never before because TB is resurging in the developed world

Dr Peter Wrighton-Smith, Oxford Immunotec
These carriers have the infection, but their immune system is keeping it in check, and it will only make them ill if their immunity weakens.

The current way of identifying people with TB, a skin test, is 100 years old and not completely reliable.

However, scientists at the University of Oxford believe that they have found a way to detect when someone's immune system is battling TB.

Cell count

It looks directly at the way the immune system is working, and which type of cells are being produced.

The presence of large numbers of white blood cells are a sign that the body is fighting an infection, and the test looks for signs of these.

However, it can tell if the body has produced the cells as a response to TB bacteria as opposed to any other type of infection.

Over time, monitoring how the numbers of these cells change gives a clue as to how well the patient is keeping their TB suppressed.

Record numbers

Rising numbers of TB cases have been reported in the UK this year.

In the past 10 years, 88 million people worldwide are thought to have contracted the disease, and 30 million died from it.

The WHO has declared TB a "global emergency".

A person with an active case of TB will infect, on average between 10 and 15 others per year, it is estimated.

Dr Peter Wrighton-Smith, the chief executive of Oxford Immunotec, a commercial offshoot of the university which is developing the test, said: "We are extremely excited about this test, which we believe will revolutionise TB control.

"The test is needed as never before because TB is resurging in the developed world and already parts of the UK have TB rates as high as India."

See also:

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