SF General is first hospital in California to pilot rapid tuberculosis test

San Francisco General Hospital is taking a stab at lowering The City’s steady rate of tuberculosis patients with a new genetic test.

Last month, the hospital became the first in California to pilot the diagnostic test, which reduces the need to isolate suspected patients and speeds up the administration of treatment, doctors said during a demonstration of the test Wednesday.

The test detects DNA sequences from the bacteria that causes tuberculosis using a patient’s specimen and delivers the results in two hours, said Dr. Barbara Haller, chief of microbiology at SFGH. Diagnosis using the more traditional test can take up to two weeks.

Tuberculosis is spread when a contagious person with an active form of the disease coughs the bacteria into the air, which can stay in the immediate atmosphere for hours if there is no ventilation or sunlight.

The disease is curable, but can be deadly. In California, where 23 percent of U.S. cases are found, it kills about one in 10 patients.

San Francisco has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the U.S. and the second-highest in the state. The City recorded 114 cases in 2014 and 107 in 2013.

The numbers have remained high in part because The City’s population has connections to countries with elevated rates of tuberculosis, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. San Francisco also has a home-grown tuberculosis problem primarily in the black and homeless communities.

Since implementing the pilot test, SFGH doctors saved one patient from being hospitalized and expedited the discharge of another, Dr. Annie Luetkemeyer said.

Data is pending on how much the new test reduces a patient’s isolation time, but doctors anticipate it will be more than 36 hours.

The pilot program will run through June, though the hospital hopes to continue the testing.

ldudnick@sfexaminer.comBay Area NewsSan Francisco General Hospitaltuberculosis

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