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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — The U.S. Army in South Korea is planning a new step to help detect tuberculosis.

Sometime this summer it expects to start using a new form of TB test called QuantiFERON-TB Gold to go along with the TB skin test it already uses on U.S. military installations in South Korea, said Col. Eric Lund, preventive medicine consultant with the 18th Medical Command in Seoul.

Members of the U.S. military community who want to be tested for tuberculosis will first be given the standard skin test, which can detect whether any form of TB is in their body, Lund said.

“And anybody who comes up positive will get the QuantiFERON-TB Gold,” Lund said

One key advantage of the Gold test is that it can show whether the positive result was triggered by the actual TB infection, or by “false” triggers.

Those can include non-infection forms of bacteria in the TB family. Another false trigger can be residue of the so-called BCG vaccination commonly used against TB in South Korea and other Asian countries.

In addition, it takes only a single hospital or clinic visit and results are back within 24 hours, said Dr. Helen Chang, chief of the occupational health service at 18th Medical Command.

Tuberculosis is virtually unheard of within the U.S. military population in South Korea, Lund said. But South Korean medical authorities have been coping with a surge in TB among Koreans, especially teens and young adults. An increase in South Korea’s homeless population over the past decade has also fed the increase, Chang said.

According to the latest figures available, only one member of the U.S. Forces Korea community had TB and “he brought it in from his homeland in the Central America part of the world,” Lund said.

By contrast, South Korean medical authorities documented 37,576 cases in 2006. The figure in 2005 was 35,269, and in 2004, 31,503, Lund said.

Korean TB experts think a big factor is the hectic lifestyle of South Korean teens and young adults. Many skip breakfast or otherwise neglect good nutrition and get little exercise, factors that weaken stamina, Lund said. And the BCG vaccine tends to wear off by the time people reach their teens or early 20s, he said.

Anyone wanting a TB test should contact their nearest clinic or other medical facility, Lund said.


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