Melbourne: A 20-year study has found that people with diabetes are seven times more likely to develop tuberculosis (TB) than the general population.
"If a person has diabetes they are up to seven times more likely to contract TB compared to the general population," said one of the researchers Tahnee Bridson from James Cook University in Townsville in Queensland, Australia.
Despite massive improvements in sanitation and antibiotic coverage over the last century, TB still remains the leading bacterial cause of death worldwide, the study pointed out.
For the study, scientists looked at data from the Townsville Hospital over a 20-year period (1995-2014).
People with diabetes suffered from "immune dysregulation" and were more prone to contracting the deadly infection, Robert Norton, director of microbiology at Townsville Hospital, explained.
"You can have TB your whole life and not know it, but if you suffer from diabetes and your immune system is not functioning well, it can flare up," Norton noted.
It had been assumed that higher standards of care for diabetic patients in Australia and the relative rarity of TB meant there was not as strong a link between the two ailments.
But the new study showed that while the overall numbers were lower, the proportion of diabetics developing TB was the same as in less developed countries.
The findings support the view that there must be screening of patients with diabetes for latent TB in any setting.
"It is especially important because the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is increasing at a very significant pace," Norton said.
The scientists have estimated that if diabetes could be reduced by 35 percent globally, 1.5 million TB deaths and 7.8 million infections could be prevented.
The study was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.