San Francisco doctor highlights growing risks of Latent TB


World-renowned tuberculosis expert from San Francisco, Dr. L. Masae Kuwamura, was in the country last week to warn fellow practitioners and the general public about the growing risks of Latent TB in present time.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare company United Laboratories Inc. (Unilab), invited Dr. Kamamura to hold the symposium to raise awareness about the disease—the No. 6 killer in the Philippines—at a well-attended gathering at Edsa Shangri-La Manila.

According to the physician, the prevalence of diabetes and rapid urbanization are among the factors that add to high susceptibility of Filipinos to the infection.

Like a warplane on stealth mode, latent tuberculosis (TB) is hovering about ready to attack unsuspecting victims at any given time. So much so that Dr. Kawamura cited that latent TB is definitely not latent all.

“As it is, tuberculosis is a global public health concern, with two billion infected and one dying every 25 seconds. Latent TB complicates the situation since it is like dealing with a hidden enemy. Early screening and prevention are really crucial,” she said in her lecture.

About one third of the world population is believed to be afflicted with Latent TB. Accurate identification is necessary because the latent TB bacteria may be reactivated and can result to the development of active TB.

Many countries are now paying very close attention to latent TB infection and are carrying out preventive measures, particularly since unlike regular TB, it is asymptomatic or shows no symptoms at all. TB bacteria, known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, are present but are inactive in the human body.

With 59 percent of TB cases globally from Asia, and the Philippines ranked as seventh in the region with the highest number of new TB cases, the country’s health sector is increasingly alarmed about latent TB.

In the Philippines, TB remains to be one of the top causes of mortality and morbidity among Filipinos. Latent TB is particularly risky for persons whose immune systems are weak; especially those with HIV infection and patients who underwent organ transplant operations. High-risk groups also include smokers, persons with renal disease and those who have diabetes.

Joining Dr. Kawamura in the lecture, Dr. Camilo C. Roa Jr., Internal Medicine consultant at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital added, “Like in most countries, treatment of latent TB is recommended here but not implemented. Diagnosis is the key. The treatment of latent TB is proactive and preventive. If detected early, there is time to deter the disease. Targeted TB screening of high-risk groups and prevention is critical in accelerating TB control and reducing the country’s TB burden.”

Dr. Kawamura emphasized that it is crucial to raise awareness about latent TB and for people to take action while it is still preventable. Early detection and subsequent prevention is another way to break the chain of TB transmission and will also translate into avoiding costly repercussions from hospitalization expenses, and loss of earning capabilities if sidelined with the infection.

Overall, without treatment, about five to 10 percent of persons infected with latent TB will develop TB disease at some point in their lives. About half of those people, will develop TB within the first two years of infection. However, the lifetime risk of those with diabetes, HIV and other medical problems is much higher and excessively contributing cases globally each year.

“To have greater impact on arresting TB disease growth rates, we must address latent TB infection urgently and earnestly,” said Dr. Kawamura.

The World Health Organization targets the 50 percent reduction of TB prevalence and deaths by 2015. By 2050, it hopes to eliminate TB as a public health problem.


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