Revolutionary Breakthrough in TB Testing
On December 8, the World Health Organization endorsed Xpert MTB/RIF, a revolutionary new technology that, if taken to scale in endemic countries, could completely change the public health approach to diagnosing and treating tuberculosis (TB), which remains one of the greatest killers on the planet.
Among a new class of fully automated, DNA-based diagnostic tests, Xpert provides a rapid, accurate diagnosis of TB without the need for a sophisticated lab. It detects many cases that are missed by the current technology, which is more than a century old, including in people who are HIV-positive — where TB mortality is highest and where the majority of cases are missed by current frontline tools. Rapid diagnosis will allow patients to start appropriate treatment in hours as opposed to weeks or even months. Since over a quarter of all AIDS-related deaths are caused by TB, Xpert is a critical tool in the fight against AIDS. If the new diagnostic is implemented broadly, there could be significant public health benefits.
For a compelling story of the TB problem in India and why new diagnostics are so desparately needed, read Michael Specter’ article, A Deadly Misdiagnosis, in The New Yorker and watch the companion slide show.