Transforming Tuberculosis control

NEW genetic sequencing techniques can map the 'family tree' of a Tuberculosis (TB) outbreak allowing the spread of disease to be tackled quickly and effectively.

Researchers, led by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, the Health Protection Agency in Birmingham and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, have pioneered the whole genome sequencing (WGS) method through a study of 254 TB cases in the British Midlands.

The method, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, compares the genetic information from the TB germs of each patient to determine with a high degree of accuracy whether cases are isolated, or if there is an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease.

By genetically mapping the spread of infection it can also show who has given the disease to whom and help identify potential 'super spreaders' before any information has been collected from patients.

Armed with this data, public health bodies can assess how much transmission is taking place and thereby target efforts quickly, efficiently and effectively to where it is needed most.

Lead investigator professor Tim Peto, at the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, says, "This will result in a major rebalancing of the public health approach to the spread of TB.