Diagnose TB earlier by better monitoring

GPs need to pay close attention to patients presenting with red flag symptoms for the presence of TB, according to an expert from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Lymphadenopathy, weight loss and sweating are all key symptoms of TB and could lead to GPs diagnosing TB early, said TB expert Dr Sarah Anderson.

Over the past 10 years, UK incidence of TB has increased by 25 per cent, fuelled by an influx of migration populations, said Dr Anderson.

HPA surveillance data from 2006 puts the rate at 14.8 per 10,000 population for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The latest study focused on 3,032 patients with TB. It compared the GP consultation rates of these patients six months prior to a diagnosis of TB with those 12 to 18 months before diagnosis. This showed that patients were four times more likely to visit their GP in the six months prior to a diagnosis of TB than in the 12 to 18 months before diagnosis.

Lymph nodes, weight loss and sweating were more predictive than cough for a diagnosis of TB.

'These are the red flag symptoms that GPs should be looking for,' said Dr Anderson.

'Cough is very common, so red flags are good for early diagnosis of TB.'

Dr Mark Ashworth, from the department of general practice and primary care at King's College London, said red flag symptoms would be helpful for TB diagnosis, as GPs sometimes misdiagnose the infection as asthma.

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