A new study published in PLoS ONE found that patients with cavitary pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) who inhale interferon through a nebulizer can reduce their disease’s transmissibility during the first few weeks of treatment.

Patients receiving anti-TB medications supplemented with nebulized interferon-gamma were found to have fewer bacilli in the lungs and less inflammation, which reduces the transmissibility of TB in the early phase of treatment, according to an announcement about the findings.

"Our findings create an opportunity to combat TB bacilli in the lungs and reduce inflammation in the early stages of the disease when the tuberculosis is transmissible," said William N. Rom, MD, MPH, director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Nebulized interferon doesn’t replace medications used to fight tuberculosis, but it shortens the time when the disease is spread—which could be critical for control of the spread of the disease."

Researchers recruited 89 eligible patients with active TB in Cape Town, South Africa, and performed a randomized, controlled clinical trial. One group of the patients took anti-TB medications supplemented with nebulized interferon-gamma over a 4-month period, and another took only TB mediations. Those patients who inhaled interferon had a significant decrease in the amount of tubercle bacilli from the sputum smear at 4 weeks and fewer symptoms of cough, night sweats, fever, and wheezing than did those who took the anti-TB medications alone. This group also had fewer inflammatory cytokines in lung cells recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage after 4 months.