Rapid TB tests to go nationwide

Rapid TB tests to go nationwide

An official introduces a rapid test kit for tuberculosis in Bangkok in March. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
An official introduces a rapid test kit for tuberculosis in Bangkok in March. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

The Department of Medical Sciences has successfully developed a new rapid test kit for tuberculosis (TB), which will be distributed to community hospitals nationwide in October.

Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary for public health, on Tuesday told a press conference that the ministry is aware that TB is a growing health threat.

The World Health Organization aims to reduce the number of TB patients to fewer than 10 in 100,000 by 2035. In Thailand, according to the WHO's estimate, the ratio was 156:100,000 last year.

TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys or the spine.

Recently the young female singer, Butsaran Thongchiew, 28, aka Numtarn The Star 5, died from a very rare form of the disease sited behind her sinuses which caused fatal cranial bleeding, Dr Sukhum said.

It is estimated one-third of the population has latent TB which is asymptomatic. The only sign of TB infection is a positive reaction to the tuberculin skin test or TB blood test. Persons with latent TB infection are not infectious.

However, without treatment, about 5% to 10% of infected persons will develop full-blown TB at some point in their lives.

Dr Sukhum said quick diagnosis at a cheaper price will be able to help people infected with TB access medical treatment.

The ministry has pledged to include the new test in the universal scheme in the future.

The department's medical scientist team has developed the rapid test kit for five years based on the WHO Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (Lamp) method.

Benjawan Phetsuksiri, the project leader from the department's National Institute of Health, said the TB-Lamp tests give a result within an hour.

"The good point is that the test can be done anywhere, without the need for a laboratory to process the result. Medical staff in community hospitals can read the result. Other tests require expensive machines and experts to read the result," she said, adding that the price of the rapid test is 200 baht.

She said the rapid test is more accurate than other, more expensive tests. However, the TB-Lamp test can only diagnose the active form of the disease and will not identify those with the latent strain.

For those people, a different, more expensive type of blood test is required.

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