Two clinical studies carried out by Research-Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Canada have shown that a shorter therapy for tuberculosis (TB) is more effective and safe in both children and adults when compared to existing standard treatment.

The studies involved 850 children and 6,800 adults living with latent TB, a dormant form of the disease that does not display any symptoms but can cause serious illness if not treated.

During the studies, findings from latent tuberculosis patients administered with the current standard of nine months isoniazid (INH) were compared to those who underwent a four-month rifampin treatment.

It was observed that more than 85% of the children completed rifampin treatment without developing active TB, compared to 76% who completed isoniazid, of which two developed active TB.

Results were found to be similar in adults, with rifampin therapy demonstrating better acceptance and completion, as well as fewer serious side-effects.

“We believe this four-month rifampin treatment should replace the nine months on INH for most people who need therapy for latent TB.”

The slightly lower rates of active tuberculosis development with the shorter treatment is said to indicate that its effectiveness is at least similar to the nine-month INH in preventing the disease.

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MUHC respirologist Dick Menzies said: “This four-month therapy is a fundamental game-changer in TB prevention.

“The four-month treatment was as effective in preventing TB, safer and more acceptable. We believe this four-month rifampin treatment should replace the nine months on INH for most people who need therapy for latent TB.

“We expect this discovery to have a substantial impact on TB, which remains the number one infectious disease killer globally, causing more deaths than AIDS, malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, or other tropical illnesses.”

The studies, which were supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, included subjects from Australia, Brazil, Benin, Canada, Guinea, Indonesia, Ghana and South Korea.

They are expected to have a substantial impact on devising future treatment guidelines for latent TB.