Patients with diabetes are up to seven times more likely to develop tuberculosis, a new 20-year study in Australia has found.
Scientists from James Cook University and Townsville Hospital looked at data from the Townsville Hospital over a period of 20 years (1995-2014) and found that patients with diabetes were much more likely to develop TB than the general population.
The study also found that indigenous Australians and overseas-born patients, primarily from Papua New Guinea, were over-represented in both the stand-alone TB group and in the TB-diabetes group.
“If a person has diabetes they are up to seven times more likely to contract TB compared to the general population,” said Tahnee Bridson, a researcher from James Cook University (JCU).
According to Robert Norton, Director of Microbiology at Townsville Hospital, people with diabetes suffered from “immune dysregulation” and were more prone to contracting the deadly infection.
“You can have TB your whole life and not know it, but if you suffer from diabetes and your immune system is not functioning well, it can flare up,” Norton said.
It had been assumed that higher standards of care for diabetic patients in Australia and the relative rarity of TB meant there was not as strong a link between the two ailments.
But the study showed that while the overall numbers were lower, the proportion of diabetics developing TB was the same as in less-developed countries.
Norton said the findings support the view that there must be screening of patients with diabetes for latent TB in any setting.
“It is especially important because the prevalence of type two diabetes is increasing at a very significant pace,” he said.
Scientists at JCU are developing experimental models that will enable them to study the interaction between the bacteria that causes TB and immune cells with similar properties to those from patients with diabetes.
The study was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.