HEALTH care experts on Thursday warned the public to remain vigilant against the constant threat from latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI), saying that the disease is ready to attack unsuspecting victims anytime.
“We have to be vigilant. While we have made significant strides in tuberculosis (TB) control, latent TB poses a different kind of challenge and some really serious risks for Filipinos,” Dr. Camilo Roa, consultant in Internal Medicine (Pulmonary) of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, said during a press briefing on Thursday at EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City.
Dr. L Masae Kawamura, world-renowned TB expert, noted that tuberculosis is a global public health concern in which two billion people worldwide have been infected and one dying every 25 seconds or about 3,800 persons.
“Latent TB complicates the situation since it is like dealing with a hidden enemy. Early screening and prevention are really crucial,” Kawamura said.
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.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TB bacteria can live in the body without making you sick.
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.
Roa cited that Filipinos are also susceptible to latent TB. He said 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 include smokers, persons with renal disease and those who have diabetes.
“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,” Roa said, adding that TB screening for high-risk groups and prevention are critical in accelerating TB control and reducing the country’s TB burden.
Kawamura, meanwhile, said that public awareness is very crucial in preventing the growing threat from latent TB infection.
“Early detection and subsequent prevention is another way of 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,” Kawamura said.
“To have greater impact on arresting TB disease growth rates, we must address latent TB infection urgently and earnestly,” she added.