Tuberculosis (TB) remains a major global public health threat. This disease has surpassed HIV/AIDS as a global killer causing nearly 2 million deaths annually, this translates to more than 4000 deaths daily. Quite alarmingly, over 10 million new infections are reported every year. At this rate of disease incidence, it seems highly unlikely that treatment alone will reduce the TB burden, especially in resource-limited countries.
A new study by TB research scientists and colleagues at the University of Cape Town in South Africa ( a country with one of the most devastating prevalence of TB) suggests that interruption of transmission by bio-aerosol sampling and identifying TB patients with high aerosol TB load could be useful to reduce transmission rates. The study was published in the Journal Gates Open Research. "Detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacilli in bio-aerosols from untreated TB patients".
In their publication, the authors used a custom made Respiratory Aerosol Sampling Chamber (RASC) - which is a small personal clean room with an array of sampling devices enabling isolation and sampling of airborne particles from the TB patients (See this link for the RASC design and photos). The RASC enables identification, determination of viability and morphology of detected Mycobacterium tuberculosis from patient's bio-aerosols by molecular, microbiological and microscopic assays. Mycobacterium tuberculosis was detected in 77.1% of aerosol samples using the RASC. However, molecular detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis was more sensitive than Mycobacterial culture on solid media. This suggested that the bacterium might also exists in a different state (termed differentially culturable Mycobacterium tuberculosis - not easily detected) when in the air.
Furthermore, the authors suggested that a combination of the RASC with molecular Mycobacterium tuberculosis detection in the clinical setting could produce a rapid point-of-care system with high sensitivity.
Could the RASC be the ultimate solution to reduce TB transmission?
This study represents great hope for the fight against TB.