The study is the first to estimate the global scale of the disease in people aged 10 to 24, a key demographic in its spread and prevention. Within this age group, those aged 20 to 24 were found to be at the greatest risk of developing TB.
Researchers said the findings, published in European Respiratory Journal, show more effort is needed to combat a disease that killed 1.3 million people in 2016.
Ms Kathryn Snow from the Centre for International Child Health at the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said: “Despite being almost eliminated in many high-income countries, tuberculosis is still the deadliest infectious disease in the world.
“The impact it has on young people is traditionally overlooked, but this is the period that underpins future health and wellbeing. This research shows us the scale of the work that needs to be done.”
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that is spread by inhaling droplets from the coughs or sneezes of someone with the disease. Those who become sick often develop a cough, fever and weight loss.
TB can be treated with antibiotics, but can be fatal if left unattended.
The paper uses figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global TB database from 2012 and statistics from five countries that represented the global spread of TB epidemics: Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Romania and Estonia.
Experts found that an estimated 1.05 million 20 to 24-year-olds, 535,000 15 to 19-year-olds and 192,000 10 to 14-year- olds developed active TB, totalling 1.8 million new cases among young people a year.
The actual figure could be as high as three million, they added.
“The spike in TB between early adolescence and young adulthood suggests that this period may be an important window for preventative interventions,” Ms Snow said.
South Asia had the highest number of new cases with 721,000, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 534,000.
“Now that we have identified the scale of the problem, our next step is to try to understand the potential for targeting preventative measures specifically at young people in countries with intense TB epidemics,” Ms Snow said.
“Health programs should consider the special needs of young people with TB, which include continuing their education, keeping their jobs and meeting their family responsibilities. These needs can be met by allowing young people to attend appointments at flexible times and by protecting young people’s privacy so that they are not discriminated against at school or at work.”
The study was supported by the Centre for Research Excellence in Tuberculosis, which is funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.
The University of Melbourne