Mandatory RT-PCR test not performed on TB patients with coronavirus symptoms: Experts

Last month, the Union Health Ministry had issued a circular instructing all the states to mandatorily test newly diagnosed tuberculosis (TB) patients with RT-PCR for COVID-19. Officials said they are following the guidelines and all the TB positive patients who have COVID-19 symptoms have undergone RT-PCR test. However the activists and experts have alleged that it has not been followed in the state.

Since the outbreak of the Sars-Cov-2—the virus that causes COVID-19 early this year, 135 TB patients have undergone treatment at the hospital with novel coronavirus co-infection. Out of this, 18 patients have succumbed to the infection.

This makes the mortality rate at the hospital to 13.33% which is three-and-eight times higher than the COVID-19 death rate of the city (4.07%) and the state (2.64%).

Senior civic officials said that they are following the guidelines issued by the Union Health Ministry for the TB patients.

“We have instructed the doctors at the TB hospitals to perform RT-PCR test on each TB patient who has coronavirus symptoms. Following this, 135 were diagnosed with the coronavirus, of which 18 have succumbed so far,” he said.

As per the officials at the TB hospital, most of the deaths were reported due to delay in diagnosis and treatment. As both COVID-19 and TB affect the lungs, it often leads to misdiagnosis.

“Out of the 14 deaths, almost eight of them were reported during the initial days of the pandemic outbreak. All the patients who died were either brought or transferred to the hospital in an extremely critical condition. This week, one co-infected patient died due to acute pneumonia. He was also referred from a private hospital,” said Dr Lalit Anande.

However, health experts have alleged that none of the TB patient with COVID-19 symptoms is being undergone the RT-PCR test. Moreover the health workers on the field are also not aware of the guidelines issued by the Union Health Minister for TB patients.

“We have come across many cases where TB patients who have coronavirus symptoms have not tested for the disease due to which their conditions deteriorate further. Moreover if a person gets delayed in diagnosis, it can not only lead to his death but also infect other people around the patient,” he said.

Health experts believe that the next few months will be essential to gauge the adverse impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the diagnosis of TB patients.

“We don’t know till what extent the pandemic has delayed the treatment of patients. It will take at least 5-7 months for the symptoms of drug resistance to come out. Also, we have to check if family members of delayed patients also contract the infection,” he said.

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