MANILA, Philippines—One-third of Filipinos—or around 30 million people— could have tuberculosis without their knowing it, an American expert on the infectious disease said Thursday.
Dr. L. Masae Kawamura, who served as TB Controller of San Francisco from 1996 to 2011, said Filipinos should be aware of latent TB, or the stage of the disease when it does not show symptoms and is not yet infectious.
“At least a third of you, if we take the skin test, will be positive,” Kawamura said in a press briefing at the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel in Mandaluyong.
She said she was extrapolating from World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of the total global population infected by TB.
According to the WHO, the Philippines in 2012 ranked second in Asia, after Cambodia, when it came to the prevalence of TB per 100,000 population. It ranked 16th in the number of new cases.
“Among adult Filipinos in San Francisco, the infection rate using the skin test is about 50 percent … However, that’s in San Francisco … Maybe that’s a different population. Maybe immigrants coming in are healthier, richer. So that’s a moderate estimate,” Kawamura said.
“There was some data presented last night [showing] the prevalence of TB infection using the skin test … that, if you are over 40, it was 70 percent prevalence which is very high,” she said.
“But I would argue that it’s probably not that high if you focus on certain populations that are exposed, maybe healthcare workers in the Philippines. But for the general population, I can’t imagine that it’s 70 percent,” she added.
Kawamura said it was important to treat latent TB because the latent TB bacteria may be reactivated and could result in the development of active TB.
“As it is, tuberculosis is a global public health concern, with two billion infected and one dying every 25 seconds. Latent TB complicates the situation since it is like dealing with a hidden enemy. Early screening and prevention are really crucial,” she said.