Australian scientists say patients with diabetes were more likely to develop tuberculosis in the tropics than the general population.
A 20-year James Cook University (JCU) study, which looked at data from the Townsville Hospital in northern Queensland from 1995 to 2014, has found the weakened immune systems of diabetics make them more vulnerable to tuberculosis (TB) than the general population.
Robert Norton, the director of microbiology at Townsville Hospital, said that people with diabetes suffered from “immune dysregulation” and were more prone to contracting the deadly infection.
“You can have TB your whole life and not know it, but if you suffer from diabetes and your immune system is not functioning well, it can flare up,” he said.
Norton said the study, published in American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, showed that while the overall numbers were lower, the proportion of diabetics developing TB was the same as in less-developed countries.
He said that scientists had assumed that higher standards of care for diabetic patients and the relative rarity of TB meant there was not as strong a link between the two ailments.
Norton said that the findings supported 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.
Norton said that tuberculosis, which commonly affects the lungs, remains the leading cause of bacterial death worldwide in spite of improvements in sanitation and antibiotic coverage over the last century.
It is estimated that if diabetes could be reduced by 35 per cent globally, 1.5 million TB deaths and 7.8 million infections could be prevented.
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