An oral swab analysis (OSA) has been proven to be an effective method in diagnosing pulmonary TB in adults, making it a high possibility that it could successfully diagnose TB in children as well.

The new TB detection method was presented last month by the University of Cape Town’s Dr Angelique Luabeya at the 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Guadalajara, Mexico.

TB is generally diagnosed by analysing sputum, a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract. However, this method is ineffective for children and patients who are unable to produce sputum.

To diagnose TB in a child doctors have to perform invasive gastric tests that can require hospitalisation. Therefore, the use of a simple swab to diagnose childhood TB could be a game changer.

According to Dr Luabeya’s presentation, preliminary results have shown that M. tuberculosis DNA is frequently present and detectable in the oral mucosa of adult patients with active pulmonary TB. Therefore, a swab can be used to quickly, within seconds, collect a sample from a patient’s cheek.

“This test is simple, and doesn’t need new technologies. The swab scrapes the cells at specific points in the mouth and provides a more accurate sample – it is the approach that is innovative rather than the actual method itself,” said Dr Luabeya during her presentation.

Such a test has been proven to be easier and cheaper to do than other TB tests currently done, such as those using blood, urine, exhaled breath, stools and saliva.

“The oral swabs are easier to collect and transport, and are promising to be an interesting tool for screening and including in active case finding strategies,” said Dr Luabeya.

“The method has been tested for other pathologies, such as Ebola, and in animals for TB. We now want to see how this would work in children,” continued Dr Luabeya.

“To make inroads into the TB epidemic, new methods are essential. And we have every reason to be excited about where the science in TB is headed,” said Scientific Director at The Union, Dr Paula Fujiwara.

“But this [OSA] is so simple and if proven to work effectively in children, the impact on them – and on TB – will be incredible. We also cannot underestimate the impact of this simple test on underdeveloped public health services – requiring minimal staff training and taking less time to collect,” concluded Dr Fujiwara.

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