WHO Endorses ‘Revolutionary’ New Diagnostic Test for TB

LONDON—A new rapid test for tuberculosis (TB) has received an important thumbs-up from the World Health Organization (WHO), a move expected to lead to its worldwide rollout over the next few years. The new test, in which a device the size of a carry-on suitcase looks for bacterial DNA in a person’s sputum, is cheaper, faster, and more accurate than standard TB tests used in both developed and developing countries, WHO representatives said yesterday at a press conference here.

“This system allows doctors to test the patient while the patient sits there [in the waiting room]”, says Marieke van der Werf, head of research at the KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation in the Netherlands, who was a member of a group that reviewed the evidence for the test’s accuracy. The panel published its report in The New England Journal of Medicine in September.

The difference with existing tests is huge, says Van der Werf. Most current TB testing methods rely on a century-old technique in which sputum samples are cultured for 4 to 6 weeks, then examined under a microscope to check for the presence of the disease-causing Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This long delay is especially problematic for people who are immunosuppressed and who can’t wait 2 months before going on treatment.

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