First global estimate finds 1.8 million young people develop TB every year

A total of 1.8 million young people between ten and 24 years of age are estimated to develop tuberculosis (TB) every year, with young adults aged 20 to 24 years at the greatest risk of developing infectious TB, according to research published in the ERJ.

The study provides the first ever global estimate of TB rates among people in this age bracket. Previous estimates categorised those aged up to 14 years as children and anyone aged 15 years and over as adults, resulting in a gap in our understanding of the scale of TB burden among young people.

The research was led by Kathryn Snow from the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She explained: “We know from previous studies that TB risk gets higher during adolescence and that young people have unique needs during treatment for TB, but until now there have been no estimates of the total number of adolescents who develop TB.

“Adolescence is a critical period in our lives – many young people with TB are finishing high school, beginning their careers and starting families. The disruption caused by TB can have serious long-term impacts, but the scale of TB burden among this group has been generally unrecognised”.

To estimate the global incidence of TB among young people as one group, Snow and her team separated existing data out in to three age bands: ten to 14 years, 15 to 19 years and 20 to 24 years.

The data came from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global TB database for 2012 and from more detailed TB surveillance statistics from Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Romania and Estonia. These countries provided a representative global spread of TB epidemics of different types and severity.

The researchers found that an estimated 1.05 million 20 to 24 year olds, 535,000 15 to 19 year olds, and 192,000 ten to 14 year olds developed active TB in 2012, totalling 1.8 million new TB cases among all young people.

Researchers point out that this is still an estimate and the real figure for the number of new TB infections across all ten to 24 year olds could be as high as three million globally.

South Asia had the highest number of new cases at 721,000 across all ten to 24 year olds, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 534,000 new cases of TB in this age group in 2012.

The researchers acknowledge that a lack of high-quality data from some countries may affect the quality of the estimates, and say that as better data becomes available they hope to revise these estimates with greater certainty.