One in four people with TB show no symptoms says bombshell study – all you need to know

By Staff 6 Min Read

Shocking new research from Amsterdam University Medical Center (UMC), also found that 80 per cent of patients with TB do not have a persistent cough

A study has found more than a quarter of people who have pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) do not report any symptoms at all.

Shocking new research from Amsterdam University Medical Center (UMC), also found that 80 per cent of patients with TB do not have a persistent cough. This is one of the key symptoms doctors use to identify the illness but now medics are being urged to rethink how they diagnose TB.

Typical symptoms of the infection, which usually affects the lungs, can include a cough that lasts for more than three weeks, feelings of tiredness or exhaustion, high temperature or night sweats, loss of appetite, weight loss and feeling generally unwell. The Victorian disease, which is spread when infectious people cough, sneeze or spit, is currently making a comeback in the UK. Almost 1,000 cases have been diagnosed in England and Wales so far this year.

Latest figures show in the first 10 weeks of this year, the UKHSA has received notifications of 919 suspected cases of TB in England, up from 878 during the same period of 2023. Another 14 suspected cases have been seen this year in Wales – up from 12 in the first 10 weeks of last year.

The results of the new study why the rates of TB are “hardly declining” globally, despite massive efforts to treat the disease in Africa and Asia, explained Frank Cobelens, professor of Global Health at Amsterdam UMC. “A persistent cough is often the entry point for a diagnosis, but if 80 per cent of those with TB don’t have one, then it means that a diagnosis will happen later, possibly after the infection has already been transmitted to many others, or not at all,” he said.

TB can be fatal if left untreated but if caught in time a course of antibiotics is usually enough to cure it. Globally the highest rates are in Africa and Asia – an estimated 10.6 million people across the world contract TB but only around 7.5 million of those cases are registered with doctors. The disease killed 1.3mn people in 2022, according to the World Health Organisation, more than HIV and AIDS.

Researchers looked at data on 602,863 people in Africa and Asia between 2007 and 2020 – 1,944 had tuberculosis. The study found that 82.8 per cent reported no persistent cough and 68.7 per cent had no cough at all while 27.7 per cent displayed no symptoms at all. Women were more likely than men to have TB but without any cough.

“When we take all of these factors into account, it becomes clear that we need to really rethink large aspects of how we identify people with TB,” professor Cobelens said. “It’s clear that current practice, especially in the most resource-poor settings will miss large numbers of patients with TB. We should instead focus on X-ray screening and the development of new inexpensive and easy-to-use tests”.

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