British scientists today unveiled an ultra-fast new test which can diagnose tuberculosis in one hour, which could help curb the spread of the disease which killed 1.3 million in 2008.
The new test gives results far faster than current tests, which can take as long as eight weeks to diagnose said the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
The long wait for results means that patients, who often travel a lot, move on before they get treated, which lets it spread.
"We’re excited to have developed this new test because it means we can potentially diagnose someone at a TB clinic within an hour and start them immediately on the treatment they need," said the HPA’s Cath Arnold, who led the study.
"This new test could really have an impact where it is most needed."
Someone in the world is newly infected with TB every second, according to figures from The World Health Organisation. Right now one-third of the world's population is infected.
The disease, spread by coughs and sneezes, killed an estimated 1.3 - 1.8 million people worldwide in 2008, said the World Health Organisation, with the disease spreading fastest in South East Asia.
Drug-resistant TB is becoming a serious threat to global health, especially as only a small proportion of cases are diagnosed, the WHO warned. Almost half the drug-resistant cases were estimated to have occurred in China and India.
The new, highly sensitive test works by pinpointing a single molecule of DNA, whereas current tests take samples from sufferers and grow them in the laboratory, which can take weeks.
"It will be a lot more effective,” said the HPA’s Emma Gilgunn-Jones told AFP."Up to 75 percent of people with TB are transient and it is difficult if they are not treated straightaway because they can move on and infect people," she told Agence France Presse news service.
Even so it could be at least two years before the super-fast test can be put to widespread use because it now has to pass clinical trials.
The development, announced at Warwick University today follows another recent breakthrough by US researchers who devised a new test also using genetic markers that can diagnose drug-resistant TB in two hours.
TB mostly affects the lungs. But the infection can spread to different parts of the body, such as the bones or nervous system. Typical symptoms include a cough, weight loss and night sweats.