Tuberculosis: Screening

Health written question – answered on 5th February 2008.

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Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what use is made by the NHS of the polymerase chain reaction test for testing for specific strains of tuberculosis in patients.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

The Mycobacterium Reference Unit (MRU) in the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has offered a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based diagnostic service to the national health service since 1999.

PCR is a method that detects small amounts and parts of the organism's genetic material. It can be used for the following purposes:

To detect Mycobacteria (the organisms that cause tuberculosis);

To distinguish between "Mycobacterium tuberculosis", which causes most cases of tuberculosis and other species of Mycobacteria;

To identify strains of "Mycobacterium tuberculosis" that are resistant to the drugs that are usually used to treat tuberculosis; and

To look at strains of "Mycobacterium tuberculosis" from a group of people who have tuberculosis to see if they have the same strain. For example, this test can be used to indicate if the organism has spread between people in this group or if they have contracted tuberculosis from other people and have an unrelated strain.

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