Tuberculosis (TB) could soon stop being the country’s leading killer as researchers have discovered how to use 3D printing technology to detect infection much earlier than previously.
Researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP) and UK’s University of Leicester have developed 3D printed inserts for face masks to detect potential infections rapidly.
The masks capture bacteria from exhalation which gives an indication of how infectious the patient is in 30 minutes, which is much faster than sputum testing.
And unlike blood tests which cannot differentiate between active and dormant TB, the masks easily detect the captured bacteria.
One of the most common symptoms of TB is a persistent cough with phlegm but by the time the symptoms arise, the infection has already been in the body for months.
Those referred to as the “missing millions” in South Africa have TB but are unaware of it and have not been diagnosed, said UP’s head of the department of infectious diseases, Professor Anton Stoltz.
“As a result, healthcare professionals can’t get to them. With this new method, we’ll be able to test a lot more people, even those not exhibiting symptoms of the disease, and get them treated early. This way, we’ll be able to save more lives, because early detection saves lives.”
TB is the leading cause of death in SA.
According to Statistics SA’s 2016 mortality rate and cause of death report, the disease contributed to 6.5% of deaths by natural causes.
Despite the figure going down from 8.3% in 2014, TB remained the leading killer.
In 2018, 301 000 South Africans were infected with TB while 64 000 died from it, the World Health Organisation said. The research showed that infectious TB was exhaled and spread mostly when patients were asleep.