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Increase in TB cases due to COVID-19? Not enough evidence, says Health Ministry

The dual morbidity of TB and COVID-19 can be highlighted through the facts that both the diseases are known to be infectious and primarily attack the lungs, the ministry said.

SARS-CoV-2 infection can make an individual more susceptible to developing active TB disease. SARS-CoV-2 infection can make an individual more susceptible to developing active TB disease.

The Health Ministry on Saturday said there is not enough evidence to suggest that there is an increase in cases of tuberculosis (TB) due to COVID-19 infection.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) said that here have been some media reports alleging that a sudden rise in cases of TB has been noticed among patients who were infected with COVID-19 recently.

However, "there is not enough evidence currently to suggest that there has been an increase in TB cases due to COVID-19 or due to increased case finding efforts", it said.

The ministry said that it has recommended TB screening for all COVID-19 positive patients and COVID-19 screening for all diagnosed TB patients. Besides, states and union territories (UTs) have been asked for convergence in efforts for better surveillance and case finding of TB and COVID-19 as early as August 2020.

"Apart from this, multiple advisories and guidance have also been issued by MoHFW to reiterate the need for bi-directional screening of TB-COVID and TB-ILI/SARI. The states/ UTs have been implementing the same," it said.

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Admitting that restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic led to 25 per cent decrease in TB cases in 2020, the ministry said that special efforts are being made to mitigate this impact through intensified case finding in OPD settings as well as through active case finding campaigns in the community by all states.

"The dual morbidity of TB and COVID-19 can be further highlighted through the facts that both the diseases are known to be infectious and primarily attack the lungs, presenting similar symptoms of cough, fever and difficulty in breathing, although TB has a longer incubation period and a slower onset of disease," the statment said.

Besides, TB bacilli can be present in humans in a dormant state and has the potential to start multiplying when an individual's immunity is compromised for any reason, it said.

"The same is applicable in post COVID scenario, when an individual may develop decreased immunity due the virus itself or due to the treatment, especially immune-suppressants like steroids...SARS-CoV-2 infection can make an individual more susceptible to developing active TB disease, as TB is an opportunistic infection like black fungus," the ministry said.