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Experimental TB Test Called Fast and Accurate
Date:9/2/2010

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental test that can diagnose tuberculosis in less than two hours, making only one doctor visit necessary before treatment starts, is being hailed as a potentially significant advance against a disease that kills nearly 2 million people annually, most of them in developing countries.

"This is a very important discovery," said infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University. "This could be an important tool worldwide, and even here in the United States."

The test, known as the "Xpert MTB/RIF" test for Mycobacterium tuberculosis and resistance to rifampin (RIF), appears to be more than 97 percent accurate and is even able to diagnose drug-resistant TB, researchers said.

A report on the researchers' work was published in the Sept. 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Further trials of the new test are planned, the researchers said.

Current testing for tuberculosis (TB) involves looking at sputum (respiratory mucus) under a microscope. But Siegel said such testing, which has been in use for more than a century, isn't always accurate. It also can take weeks for results from a TB culture, and infections can be missed.

"That [the existing test] is knives and bearskins compared to this" new test, Siegel said. The one potential drawback to the new test would be the expense, he said, adding, "The key question is what's it going to cost?"

For the study, a research team led by Dr. Catharina C. Boehme, of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in Geneva, Switzerland, used the Xpert MTB/RIF test on 1,730 patients suspected of having drug-sensitive or multidrug-resistant pulmonary tuberculosis. The patients were from Azerbaijan, India, Peru and South Africa.

The test diagnosed tuberculosis in 99.2 percent of the patients, the researchers foun
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