Call for GPs to monitor patients with red flag symptoms for TB to diagnose earlier

GPs should pay close attention to patients presenting with red flag symptoms for the presence of TB, according to an expert in infectious disease.

Dr Sarah Anderson from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), told delegates at the 36th annual conference for the Society of Academic Primary Care in West London last week, that research had shown that identifying red flag symptoms such as lymphadenopathy, weight loss and sweating could allow GPs to diagnose TB earlier.

The UK incidence of TB has increased by 25 per cent in the last 10 years, fuelled by an influx of migration populations arriving in the UK.

For the study, the research team compared GP consultation rate behaviour six months prior to a diagnosis of TB with the same 3,032 patients’ consultation behaviour 12-18 months prior to TB.

They found that patients were four times more likely to visit their GP in the six months prior to a diagnosis of TB then in the 12-18 months before TB.

Analysis of the strength of association between TB and its symptoms showed that that lymph nodes, weight loss and sweating were more predictive then cough for a diagnosis of TB.

‘These are the red flag symptoms that GPs should be looking for. Cough is very common so red flags are good for early diagnosis of TB,’ said Dr Anderson.

Mr Mark Ashworth, from the department of general practice and primary care at Kings College London, said that GPs sometimes mistake TB for asthma, suggesting that red flag symptoms would be helpful in TB diagnosis.

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