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1 in 6 Korean medical professionals have latent TB: study

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jul 16, 2018 - 18:04
  • Updated : Jul 16, 2018 - 18:04

About 1 in 6 Korean medical professionals are estimated to have latent tuberculosis, and a stronger measure is needed to prevent the potentially infectious disease, a newly released study showed Monday.

Latent TB is a condition in which inactive TB bacteria are present in the body with no symptoms. Without treatment, about 5 to 10 percent of latent TB patients will develop symptoms of TB sometime in their lives.

Researchers came to the conclusion after testing some 1,650 medical professionals including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical technicians, among others. Among them, 16 percent tested positive for latent TB. 

A local hospital in Seoul (Yonhap)

The result also showed that 24 percent of all tested doctors had latent TB, while 12 percent of the nurses had the same condition. Only 4 percent of the tested pharmacists had latent TB.

At the same time, 20 percent of the tested medical technicians, and 22 percent of the hospital staff also turned out to have the disease.

As of 2016, South Korea had the highest incidence rate of TB among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, partly due to the lack of epidemiological research of the disease since the Korean War (1950-53).

In 2015, as many as 80 out of every 100,000 individuals here were TB positive, almost seven times higher than the average rate of developed nations.

South Korea’s Health Ministry launched a set of new measures to drop the prevalence rate of the disease to the OECD average -- 12 patients per 100,000 people -- by 2025. One of the measures was a mandatory annual TB test for all registered medical professionals.

The study also showed that only 65 percent of all medical professionals who were tested for the research were vaccinated for TB.

Researchers also concluded that health care professionals who were older, male and had interacted with TB patients in person, and those who were diabetic, had a higher chance of developing the disease.

“It is necessary to continue monitoring health care professionals until we come up with more effective measures to deal with TB in the country,” researchers said. “Those who work in the medical industry are known to have a higher risk of developing the disease, and many of them interact with patients on a daily basis.”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com