Detection of tuberculosis by automatic cough sound analysis

This study investigated a simple and easily applied method for TB screening based on the automatic analysis of coughing sounds. A database of cough audio recordings was collected and used to develop statistical classifiers. The method could distinguish between the coughs of TB positive patients and healthy controls with an accuracy of 78% and an AUC of 0.95.

PDF attached.

Botha_2018_Physiol._Meas._39_045005.pdf (786.0 KB)


@madhukar.pai excellent find.

This phenomenon spills far, far beyond TB. Amazon filed patents in late 2018 to use acoustic analysis of Alexa ambient and intended-actor coughing, breathing, and speech patterns to detect cold, flu, sore throat and tb. In the US, the cities of Baltimore and Kansas City have integrated cough detection into their “Active Shooter” acoustic sensor response and Smart Cities initiatives. Google just got sued for surreptitiously embedding microphones into their Nest thermostats for audio snooping and Google’s prior work with Google Flu Trends, Google Health, and the Google Trends API are suggestive they’ve not completely abandoned these types of efforts. Apple’s integrating ECGs and acoustics into their phone models and watches…etc.

The advantages are better supply chain management for OTC manufacturers, better HR planning for disability and sick days, and pharmaceutical company direct sales. Of course, there are advantages to public health and disease surveillance but thus far, they have been reluctant to pay for what the private sector already acknowledged is the best market intelligence in the history of healthcare.

Not trying to scare-monger, but these things are really happening. The important part for TB, I think, whether you like or agree with the politics and privacy aspects of it, is that this is absolutely going to be pushed by the big tech companies and smart city initiatives and they’re going to use the public health / public good argument to do so. Predicting and responding to flu outbreaks faster means billions saved in public funding. In short, audio surveillance in the name of public health is already starting to happen. Keep an eye on these advancements and, perhaps, we should be advocating for these companies to include tuberculosis in their target list of audio triggers? Seems like a bitter pill to swallow yet in the face of missing out on this or being able to prevent it from happening…is it a viable alternative?

I don’t like all the intrusion in privacy, but since the world seems to welcome Facebook Portal into their home, even though they’re filing patents to listen to you all the time and analyze whether you’re coming down with a sore throat to market lozenges during your next login…well, maybe it’s time TB gets on their radar too. An innovative public health deal with a big tech company could save millions of lives in TB…