BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: In Depth: Leicester 2002  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Leicester 2002 Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 06:06 GMT 07:06 UK
Scientists develop faster TB test
TB bacteria
The bacteria are slow to grow in the laboratory

A new DNA test has been developed to isolate a strain of tuberculosis in a matter of hours.

The breakthrough has come from scientists involved in managing an outbreak in Leicester, UK, last year.

About 300 pupils at the Crown Hills Community College in the city were infected with the bacterium after a 14-year-old boy was misdiagnosed with asthma.

It took 10 months before his condition was properly recognised, by which time others in the school had begun to fall ill.

The test, which should aid the management of future outbreaks, was discussed at the British Association's science festival in the city.

Genetic pay-off

TB, which is a disease of the respiratory system, affects as many as 7,000 people in England and Wales every year. Symptoms include a cough that refuses to go away, unexplained weight loss, severe night sweats and lethargy.

It's the beginning of the pay-off in genetic technology for the control of infectious diseases

Professor Mike Barer
A long course of antibiotics is usually sufficient to cure a patient, but an early diagnosis is greatly desired.

The traditional test, known as the tuberculin skin test (TST), or Heaf test, can take weeks and can give false-positive results in people who have been given the anti-TB BCG vaccine, or exposed to other similar types of microbes.

Professor Mike Barer, of Leicester University, used data from the decoded genome of the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis to search for markers that could be used to isolate the strain involved in any particular outbreak in just two to three hours.

Action plan

"It's the beginning of the pay-off in genetic technology for the control of infectious diseases. A huge amount of money was invested in sequencing M. tuberculosis. This is really a very direct application which has been of day to day use to practising physicians."

Such new DNA tests will form a key part of the UK Government's TB Action Plan to be launched next year. The tests will be used in a wider screening programme and there will also be a new system for fast-track treatment.

The key target for 2003 will be to ensure 90% of people diagnosed with the disease are treated and cured, and that notification rates in all UK ethnic groups steadily decline.

But Dr Philip Monk, of Leicester Health Authority, said that with TB increasing worldwide, these targets would not be easy to achieve.

Worldwide problem

"TB isn't going away. It is very much a resurgent problem facing us in Leicestershire and other areas in this country, which is a worry because this is a disease we thought we had conquered; we thought it had gone forever. But it is definitely staging a major comeback."

According to the World Health Organization, TB infection is currently spreading worldwide at the rate of one person per second.

It kills more young people and adults than any other infectious disease and is the world's biggest killer of women. In 1993 the WHO declared TB "a global health emergency".

The WHO predicts that by 2020 nearly one billion people will be newly infected with TB, of whom 70 million will die.

Last year, scientists from Oxford University developed a test that was based on analysing blood samples for the presence of immune system cells that are activated by a protein produced by the TB bacterium.

The new Leicester test will not be employed as a front-line diagnostic tool to detect the presence of the disease, but it is already being used in identifying the strain involved in an outbreak and studying how this is related to those involved in other cases.

BA science festival at Leicester University.

Latest news

Science

Nature

Health

INTERNET LINK
See also:

24 Mar 02 | Health
24 Mar 02 | Health
18 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Feb 03 | Medical notes
22 Jun 01 | Health
18 Apr 01 | Health
24 Apr 01 | Africa
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Leicester 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Leicester 2002 stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes