Research team uncovers Taiwan’s tuberculosis story

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Oct 01, 2013 - Page 5

A team headed by Tu Hung-yun (杜鴻運) of the National Health Research Institute has discovered three different tuberculosis genotypes in patients in Taiwan.

Tu said that his team had tested samples from TB patients in northern, eastern and southern Taiwan and discovered that the disease was two to three times more common in Aboriginals.

While the team at first put this down to uneven distribution of medical resources across the country, they then found that patients in eastern Taiwan had a different strain of mycobacterium tuberculosis, which they called the “Netherlands strain.”

Tu said that Asians — particularly of Han ethnicity — across China, Hong Kong and Singapore were more likely to contract a TB strain identified as the Beijing strain, while those of Aboriginal descent were primarily infected by the Netherlands strain, a type spoligotyped as Latin American-Mediterranean (LAM).

After discussions with foreign experts, Tu hypothesized that the LAM type of TB prevalent in Aboriginals had perhaps been introduced to Taiwan by Dutch colonizers in the 17th century.

Tu also said that most patients in southern Taiwan were infected with type 1 TB, the East African-Indian type, but its source had yet to be identified.

Meanwhile, Tu said that though his team discovered that more than 99 percent of his subjects in northern Taiwan had received a shot of BCG vaccine, they had nonetheless been infected.

Tu said that the vaccine was developed primarily to combat the LAM type of TB and was less effective against the type 2 TB Bejing group, which affects 85 percent of all TB patients in Asia.

Tu said his team was beginning work on a new vaccine to decrease the risk of a TB relapse, adding that they had submitted a patent application in the US on their research.

Tu expressed concern that fewer researchers were opting to work on TB. A veteran of more than two decades in the field, he said he hoped to see new blood join the fight against the disease.