A two-decade-long study has concluded that there is a strong link between diabetes and TB with diabetes patients much more likely to contract TB and their non-diabetic counterparts.
Researchers at James Cook University and Townsville Hospital in Australia have for the first time established a close connection between diabetes and TB. Researchers looked at data from Townsville Hospital over a 20-year period (1995-2014) and found that patients with diabetes were seven times more likely to develop TB than the general population.
Despite massive improvements in sanitation and antibiotic coverage over the last century, TB still remains the leading bacterial cause of death worldwide.
Researchers reveal that people with diabetes suffer from “immune dysregulation” and this is what made them more prone to contracting the deadly infection. According to the Director of Microbiology at Townsville Hospital, Dr Robert Norton, a person can have TB for whole life without knowing it, but if they suffer from diabetes and their immune system is not functioning well, TB can can flare up and start acting up.
Researchers also revealed that despite higher standards of care for diabetic patients in developed countries, the proportion of diabetics developing TB was the same as in less-developed countries. Dr Norton said the findings support the view that there must be screening of patients with diabetes for latent TB in any setting.
“It is especially important because the prevalence of type two diabetes is increasing at a very significant pace,” he said.
Researchers are now working to develop models that will enable them to study the interaction between the bacteria that causes TB and immune cells with similar properties to those from patients with diabetes.
“Without such models we will not be able to study the defects that make patients with diabetes more susceptible to TB,” according to Professor Natkunam Ketheesan. “Such models are useful in developing treatment protocols and prevention strategies.”
It is estimated that if diabetes could be reduced by 35% globally, 1.5 million TB deaths and 7.8 million infections could be prevented, making this an important area where further local research is warranted.