New test to determine whether tuberculosis sufferers are taking their prescribed antibiotics

A new test to determine whether tuberculosis (TB) sufferers are taking their prescribed antibiotics has been devised by scientists at the University of Birmingham, England.

Antibiotics are highly effective against TB, but must be taken daily over long periods. It is essential to monitor patients to ensure that they take their treatment regularly, as drug resistant TB is caused when patients discontinue their treatment.

The test, called Isoscreen, is a urine test and can be administered by a health professional. It removes any doubt about whether patients are taking their drugs as the urine sample will turn dark blue if the patient is complying with treatment; green if the patient has not taken the drugs for 2 to 3 days; or will stay the same colour if the patient has not been taking the drugs over a longer period.

Incidences of TB are increasing especially in large cities and there are approximately 7500 new cases of the disease each year. The course of treatment is often six months or more, and if taken regularly the symptoms of the disease diminish rapidly so there is a tendency for patients to stop taking the tablets. Drug resistant strains of the TB bacterium are becoming more common and are currently very difficult to treat leading the World Health Organisation to highlight the disease as a major priority.

Results from a trial involving nearly 200 TB sufferers showed a percentage of participants (1.6%) were not taking their drugs as directed and a further 5.2% were not taking the tablets daily.

Dr Graham Cope, who invented the new test, said, 'It is of paramount importance to world health that we do as much as possible to stop strains of TB becoming drug resistant and patient compliance when taking drugs is essential to fight this disease. The test has been designed so that it can be used in clinics around the country and abroad to help to stem the increase in the disease.'

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