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Saskatoon researchers examine effects of COVID-19 and Tuberculosis co-infection


Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) are looking into the effects of COVID-19 and Tuberculosis co-infection.

The study is being led by VIDO research scientists Arinjay Banerjee, who will focus on COVID-19 and Neeraj Dhar, who will focus on TB.

The pair say there are many similarities between COVID-19 and TB, including how they are both respiratory illnesses, can stay in the lungs for a long period of time and can be fatal.

COVID-19 has accounted for more than six million deaths worldwide to date, while TB results in about 1.5 million deaths every year.

“Before COVID came into the picture, TB was the leading killer among infectious diseases,” Dhar said.

“When COVID happened, we did not know how these two diseases would interact because both diseases kind of target a similar kind of profile of people with either comorbidities of diabetes and HIV or (do not have a nutritional diet).”

Dhar said Saskatchewan has the highest rate of TB in Canada, especially in northern communities. He said while other illnesses like the flu were not as prevalent in the early stages of the pandemic, the opposite happened with TB.

“Because of COVID, because there has been a lack of access to not just diagnostics but also treatment, this has resulted in TB actually increasing in the last two years,” he said.

The study will look at whether patients with TB are predisposed to co-infections with COVID-19 and vice versa. It will also look at how severe the disease can be during co-infection, the possibility of long-term effects on the lung tissue and treatment for these co-infections.

“There are folks globally living with TB, there are folks living with COVID-19 and there’s always this concern that you know, people that have this problem are concerned that who is looking into it? What’s going to happen? Am I going to live the rest of my life worrying that I’m more likely to get severe COVID-19 because I’ve got latent TB?” Banerjee said.

“I think it’s in some ways good to know that there are people looking into these problems. We haven’t forgotten about this population that might not be the majority on the planet, but still represents a significant number of people and families.”

The study will use a mini model lung derived from a human lung to look at the factors that lead to lung damage during COVID-19 and TB infections.

“We have the ability to introduce different combinations. So, we can start with SARS-CoV-2 infection first to see how that predisposes the tissue to TB infection and vice versa. If this tissue were to have TB to begin with, how would that impact SARS-CoV-2?” Banerjee said.

Dhar said the results from the study will create knowledge about the consequences of co-infection and establish a model to test therapeutics.

“If there’s another investigator or company that has a product that they propose targets one of these two pathogens, we could test it in this model very easily,” he said.

The team was given just under $150,000 in funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation for the study.

Banerjee said the hope is that this model will open the door for research into other respiratory co-infections.

“I think what this pandemic is really highlighting is, you know, we shouldn’t take respiratory infections lightly, and we didn’t have a lot of good platforms to study them when the pandemic broke out,” he said.

“We need to be faster and more ready for the next pathogen. And it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.” Top Stories

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