Mask sampling can help detect TB in kids: Study
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In an interesting finding that could pave the way for simpler and non-invasive ways of detecting tuberculosis (TB) in children, a city-based research organisation has found that the bacteria can be detected from the respiratory aerosols collected on masks.

Through mask sampling, experts from the Foundation for Medical Research (FMR) could pick up tuberculosis bacilli in nine of the ten studied samples.

The pilot study by FMR was carried out on 10 children who were made to wear N-95 masks containing a gelatin membrane for 10 minutes during which they were asked to read, recite, talk, cough and take tidal breaths 20 times to collect exhaled aerosols in the mask.

The researchers then took out the membrane attached to the mask and processed it for isolation of TB RNA and looked for TB specific genes through QT-PCR test. Children who already had a microbiologically confirmed diagnosis of TB were selected for the study.

“Through mask sampling, we could pick up TB in nine out of 10 samples, hence showing that it could be developed as a reliable approach,” said Kalpana Sriraman, researcher from FMR.

Children account for 10% of the TB burden, but less than 7% are notified. “There is a huge detection gap owing to limitations in diagnosis,” she added.

However, FMR researchers also found that the Genexpert test that is widely used for TB detection didn’t have much success in picking up the bacteria from mask samples.

It could only detect one of the 10 cases, whereas RT-PCR could find TB in nine samples. “But RT-PCR is resource intensive and has scalability issues unlike Genexpert,” said Dr Nerges Mistry, director of FMR, adding that the institute will now work towards making mask sampling more viable for TB detection.

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