Why TB is an Important Women’s Health Issue

500,000 women died from tuberculosis in 2011, making TB one of the top killers of the world’s women.1

A woman is most likely to be affected by TB during her reproductive years, posing considerable risks to her own health and the health of her baby during pregnancy. Studies from Mexico and India indicate that a TB positive woman is four times more likely to die during childbirth – and the risk of her infant dying also increases.2

Unfortunately, women in high burden countries are seldom screened for latent tuberculosis, which can be treated to prevent deadly, active tuberculosis from emerging during pregnancy.

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While pregnancy is a danger for women with TB, it can also pose an opportunity for prevention: In many countries with a high burden of TB, it is the only time in a woman’s life when she will seek medical care.  

Research by Dr. Jyoti Mathad suggests a TB test called the interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA), which was approved for use in the US in 2007, may better detect latent TB in pregnant women than the standard skin test.  She led a study in Pune, India that suggests the standard test can be thrown off by changes in the immune system that result from pregnancy.

At the Union Conference on Lung Health, Stop TB Advocacy Officer David Bryden interviewed Dr. Mathad on her research, how screening for TB during pregnancy can save lives, and why TB is an important women's health issue. 

1  World Health Organization (2012). Global Tuberculosis Report 2012.

2 Lin, H.C. and Chen, S.F. (2010). “Increased Risk of Low Birthweight and Small for Gestational Age Infants Among Women With Tuberculosis.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 117(5): 585.