Australian scientists have shown an important link between two, previously unconnected, serious lung diseases: tuberculosis and COPD.
COPD is a debilitating lung condition that kills millions of people each year and is one of the leading causes of death in Australia. While it has long been considered a smoker’s diseases, 30 per cent of cases have never smoked.
The Woolcock researchers scanned international scientific literature for a link between the two conditions. The results, released ahead of World TB Day on March 24, leave no doubt the diseases are intimately connected.
"We found that people who have had TB are three times more likely to get chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or another respiratory disease called bronchiectasis," says Professor Guy Marks, Woolcock respiratory physician and supervisor of the research published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Non-smokers, young people and people from countries with higher rates of tuberculosis appear to have an even higher risk of developing chronic respiratory disease following tuberculosis, the research shows.
"We have long known that TB is an important cause of illness and death in many countries around the world. However, in the past we have tended to believe that those who recover from TB do not have longer terms problems. Our findings call this into question by highlighting the serious long-term consequences of TB. COPD is already a high burden disease around the world. This link between TB and COPD provides another reason to focus attention the need to combat TB globally" Dr Marks says.
The link was found by PhD student Dr Anthony Byrne who led a systematic literature review of 11 studies that included both TB and lung disease data.
The studies included Australian sites, and other population data collected in South Africa, Latin America and Asia.
"With so many Australians born overseas in these tuberculosis endemic regions, these findings may have important implications for Australian clinicians and researchers," Dr Byrne says.
Armed with these findings, the researcher and his team are now studying the specific effects of tuberculosis on lung function in 400 people in Lima, Peru, to better understand the link between the conditions.
"My study will be the first population-based research designed to test the association between lung function, as well as allergy and asthma, and a past history of known tuberculosis infection," he says.
Tuberculosis research is a key focus for the Woolcock. The leading research institute is collaborating with the Centenary Institute to increase awareness of TB's impact on people’s lives and to improve health outcomes faster through collaboration in research.
The new research, Tuberculosis and Chronic Respiratory Disease: A Systematic Review, is published in the online journal on March 23.
It was completed in partnership with The University of Sydney, The Centre for Research Excellence in Tuberculosis, Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, Socios En Salud Sucursal, Lima, Perú and Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
TB and Chronic Respiratory Disease: The Facts
- Chronic respiratory disease (COPD and bronchiectasis) is common throughout the world and kills 4.6 million people each year.
- It leaves millions more with disabling chronic symptoms such as cough and breathlessness. In Australia, is it one of the leading causes of death and disability.
- Tuberculosis is a common and deadly disease, particularly in poor countries. Every year, nine million people catch TB and a further 1.5 million die from it.
- Australia has 1,200 new cases of TB each year. Rates are in slow decline globally but the infection continues to rage on Australia's front doorstep in Papua New Guinea, which is on the brink of a runaway epidemic.
- Australian researchers have shown an important link between TB and chronic respiratory disease which has far-reaching implications for patients, doctors and national tuberculosis control programs.