The government on Saturday said that there is not enough evidence currently to suggest that there has been an increase in tuberculosis cases due to COVID-19 or due to increased case finding efforts. Pointing out the media reports alleging that a sudden rise in TB cases has been noticed among patients who were infected with COVID-19 recently, the health ministry clarified that it had recommended TB screening for COVID-19 patients and COVID-19 screening for all TB patients.
“States and UTs have been asked for convergence in efforts for better surveillance and case finding of TB and COVID-19, as early as August 2020,” it said.
Besides this, the ministry said, multiple advisories and guidance have been issued to reiterate the need for bi-directional screening of TB-COVID and TB-ILI/SARI. The states and UTs have been implementing these advisories, it said.
According to the ministry, due to the impact of COVID-19 related restrictions, case notifications for TB had decreased by about 25 per cent in 2020 but 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.
“Moreover, 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 health ministry further clarified that the dual morbidity of tuberculosis 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.
“Furthermore, TB bacilli can be present in humans in a dormant state and has the potential to start multiplying when the individual’s immunity is compromised for any reason. 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,” the ministry said in a statement.
It warned that SARS-CoV-2 infection can make an individual more susceptible to developing active TB disease, as TB is an opportunistic infection like black fungus.