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Stanford TB screening tool solves inmate crisis

Growing rates of tuberculosis (TB) among inmates in former Soviet Union nations may come to an end with a new tool developed by Stanford researchers.

GeneXpert, a cost-effective drug resistance-screening tool, was developed by a team from the Stanford School of Medicine and the Stanford Center for Health Policy under the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The tool is predicted to reduce the rate of tuberculosis in Russian and Eastern European prisons by 20 percent in four years.

Approximately 400,000 cases of tuberculosis were diagnosed last year in 15 countries including Russia, Latvia and Tajikistan. Of those, 80,000 cases were registered as having drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“Drug-resistant TB is rampant in prisons,” said Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, lead researcher and assistant professor of medicine, in a Stanford News Service article. “When infected prisoners get out, they are thought to drive the TB epidemic in the general population. We are looking to find better ways to deal with that.”

The researchers estimate that their tool would surpass the current screening methods suggested by the World Health Organization: inmates self-reporting symptoms, interviewing prisoners about their health and administering chest X-rays.

The GeneXpert tool instantly detects tuberculosis and its drug-resistant genetic mutations. While it would cost about $71 per prisoner to conduct mass screenings, Goldhaber-Fiebert said the health benefits make the additional spending worthwhile.

The findings of the GeneXpert research can be found online in the PLOS Medicine journal.

Ileana Najarro