Scientists Make Monumental Strides Against World’s Deadliest 'Infectious' Disease

As March 24 marks World Tuberculosis Day, a new study has revealed that scientists may have uncovered answers to some of the more puzzling anomalies associated with tuberculosis, the World's Deadliest Infectious Disease.

Mapping the progression of latent, or inactive tuberculosis, into advanced TB has been a fiercely challenging proposition for scientists around the world. Now, they've claimed that a new test can actually determine how many individuals with latent TB are likely to develop the dreaded life-threatening condition at some point in their lives. The new test identifies a gene signature characterized by 16 active TB-triggering genes in people and likely to enable experts to accurately single out individuals susceptible to the deadly infection over the next one or two years. The 16 genes are said to comprise inflammation genes, that offer compelling enough clues to an early onset of TB.

TB is a disease usually caused by an organism called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Historically, it could hardly be determined why some individuals who may be exposed to the bacteria become infected when other people don't. It is believed that the probability of getting infected rested mainly on the extent of infectious droplets in the atmosphere as well as the duration of exposure to infected persons. The new research allows for an opportunity to detect tuberculosis prior to the stage where it may become actively contagious.

Illustration of tuberculosis bacteria (Image: Shutterstock)
Illustration of tuberculosis bacteria (Image: Shutterstock)

According to a World Health Organization report, in 2014, for the first time ever, tuberculosis infections rivaled HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death from infectious diseases with 1.1 million deaths attributed to TB compared to 1.2 million people dying from HIV/AIDS.

According to contributing expert Willem Hanekom of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, one of the study's authors, such trials are likely to be initiated any time soon.

"The signature does not have to be 100 percent specific and sensitive for interventions to work. There may be other things in the environment of these patients that trigger this signature long before TB disease, we just don't know, but in terms of interventions it doesn't really matter."
Tuberculosis becomes active when individuals with latent TB fall ill. According to statistics, most people with latent TB hardly ever never experience a full-blown infection. Figures suggest that 5 to 10 percent of people with latent TB might go on to develop active tuberculosis at some point in their lives, most likely in the absence of treatment. Recently, the United Nation set new Sustainable Development Goals which included eradicating the global TB epidemic by 2030, envisioning a nearly 90 percent reduction in TB-related fatalities, and an almost similar drop in infections.

According to WHO estimates, over 90 percent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and it is among the top five causes of death for young- to middle-aged women around the world. An estimated 1 million children have been infected, with TB with nearly 150,000 children succumbing to the illness in 2014 alone.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

World Tuberculosis Day is being observed around the world today. This event is commemorated March 24 every year to enhance awareness around the proliferating epidemic that claims nearly 1.5 million lives each year, predominantly in developing countries. Meanwhile, WHO has urged nations and their health care providers and partners to forcefully act and eradicate this illness from the face of the planet.

"WHO's End TB Strategy envisions a world free of TB with zero deaths, disease and suffering. It sets targets and outlines actions for governments and partners to provide patient-centred care, pursue policies and systems that enable prevention and care, and drive research and innovations needed to end the epidemic and eliminate TB."
Authors of the new study agree that the new trials could establish whether those individuals with the gene signature, subject to treatment with anti-TB drugs, can be cured prior to the condition's active onset.

[Image via Shutterstock]