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Tuberculosis research used to understand COVID-19

Updated: Apr. 3, 2021 at 11:03 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Tuberculosis, or TB, has been around for centuries. An estimated one in four people have it.

With the emergence of COVID-19, the CDC and World Health Organization are raising awareness about prior TB research that can help them understand more about the virus.

“Tuberculosis is a serious infection that typically is going to affect your lungs. That’s where most people get it, although sometimes it can be outside of the lungs. It’s a bacteria that gets into your system and is spread from one person to another usually through droplets through coughing and sneezing,” said Dr. Jennifer Johnson, a Family Medicine Physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

The CDC says many years of clinical and experimental studies have provided a wealth of information on which to base TB contact identification.

There are many links between TB and COVID-19. Both illnesses predominantly affect the lungs, can cause identical symptoms or no symptoms at all and have been associated with super spreader events. Most importantly, both TB and COVID-19 can be deadly.

Dr. Johnson added, “It continues to remain a problem. About 4000 people worldwide die each day die of Tuberculosis and about 28000 a year will be diagnosed with Tuberculosis, so it’s definitely something that’s out there, even though it’s something you don’t hear very much about.”

Researchers say these similarities are critical in using TB research to benefit both COVID-19 responses and public health programs.

Many TB prevention methods have been enacted in response to COVID-19, including avoiding contact with airborne droplets, distancing and getting tested and vaccinated.

While the long-term impact of COVID-19 is still unknown, experts say researchers can use information on the chronic complications from TB to infer the impact the Coronavirus may leave on those once infected, such as lung damage or chronic coughing.

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