'Disease of yesteryear' to make a return as a result of Covid, expert warns

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A disease wrongly assumed to be a thing of the past, could be on the rise as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, an expert has warned.

The pandemic could lead to a rise in tuberculosis (TB) infections around the world as some patients will have gone undiagnosed amid the crisis, Dr Laura Cleghorn, of the University of Dundee said.

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There is a “pressing need” to develop new treatments for the illness which some wrongly think of as a “disease of yesteryear”, she said.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person, LiverpoolEcho reports.

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It mainly affects the lungs, but it can affect any part of the body, including the tummy (abdomen), glands, bones and nervous system.

Dr Cleghorn, portfolio manager for TB drug discovery at Dundee, said that extensive efforts over many years had started to make progress on reducing the burden of the disease around the globe.

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But she added the pandemic is likely to have a negative impact on this progress.

'Disease of yesteryear' to make a return as a result of Covid, expert warns

TB is a potentially serious condition, but it can be cured if it's treated with the right antibiotics

Thanks to modern-day antibiotics, while TB is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated, deaths are rare if treatment is completed.

However, some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics.

According to the NHS, the BCG vaccine offers protection against TB.

This vaccine is recommended on the NHS for babies, children and adults under the age of 35 who are considered to be at risk of catching TB.

'Disease of yesteryear' to make a return as a result of Covid, expert warns

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, TB was the world’s leading infectious disease killer, responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2020

But in 2020, an estimated 10million people fell ill with tuberculosis (TB) worldwide.

In total, this involved 5.6million men, 3.3million women and 1.1million children, the World Health Organisation said.

The University of Dundee's Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) has received a $5million (£3.8million) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to speed up the delivery of drug candidates.

The primary focus of the work, which will take place over three years, will be on tuberculosis (TB), however, researchers will also work on developing treatments for malaria and future viral pandemic diseases.

'Disease of yesteryear' to make a return as a result of Covid, expert warns

Some forms of TB are resistant to certain antibiotics

Dr Cleghorn said: “This is thought to be primarily due to reduced access to TB diagnosis and treatment centres, which will lead to more patients going undiagnosed and, subsequently, transmitting the disease within their communities.

“It will be a few years before the full effect of the pandemic on TB disease burden will be known but there was already an ongoing need for new improved TB therapeutics.

“All the front-line drugs currently in use were identified before the 1960s and all have increasing amounts of clinical drug resistance, so novel therapies are urgently required to tackle the disease.

“With the potential increase in cases due to the pandemic there is an even more pressing need for new therapeutics to address what will likely be a clear increase in TB burden and deaths once the Covid-19 pandemic is curtailed.

“When I talk to people about my research, they are surprised that I work on TB because they think of it as a disease of yesteryear because it is not something that is prevalent in the UK and other western countries.

“This is still a major issue in low and middle-income countries, so there is still a need to develop new and improved TB treatments.”

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'Disease of yesteryear' to make a return as a result of Covid, expert warns

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Researchers will aim to identify safe, orally dosed molecules with the potential to significantly reduce the duration of drug therapy that currently lasts for six months or more and is very onerous for the patient.

The announcement comes ahead of World TB Day on Thursday, which aims to raise awareness and understanding about the disease.

March 24 marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing the disease.

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