TB continued: Drug-resistant strain of deadly disease alarms doctors worldwide

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that destroys patients’ lung tissue. The disease is then spread through the air through coughing and sneezing. Anyone with active TB may infect an additional 10 to 15 people a year, experts say. Reuters / Denis Balibouse

The world is in the middle of a tuberculosis pandemic, scientists say. What was once a disease of undeveloped nations has raced across continents, with thousands of cases in Asia and Europe. The disease may infect up to two million people by 2015.

An extensive international study published by the Lancet medical journal shows that the illness, once thought to be the stuff of books by the likes of Charles Dickens, is making a quiet comeback. Cases of tuberculosis in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America are on the rise, and many of them are of a strain resistant to vaccination.

The study examines two types of tuberculosis: Multi drug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR), both of which are far more widespread than previously believed, experts claim.

MDR tuberculosis is resistant to at least two first-line drugs – Isoniazid and Rifampicin – used as primary treatment in confirmed cases of the disease. XDR is resistant not only to these two, but also to an antibiotic used as second-line drug.

“Most international recommendations for TB control have been developed for MDR-TB prevalence of up to around five percent. Yet now we face prevalence up to ten times higher in some places, where almost half of the patients … are transmitting MDR strains,” Sven Hoffner of the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control wrote in a commentary on the study.

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