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Drug Resistant Strain of Tuberculosis Causes Fear in India

January 16th 2012

Health/Medicine - TB Bacteria
Tuberculosis Culture

A Los Angeles Times report has revealed that a virulent strain of tuberculosis is causing concern for officials in India.  More than a dozen people have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant variant of the lung disease.

The December issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases highlighted four cases of the disease but the Indian media report that no fewer than twelve people have been affected.  Epidemiologists are fearful that a larger number of cases may have gone undetected.

A co-author of the study, Zarir Udwadia of the Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Mumbai, told New Scientist "It's estimated that on average, a tuberculosis patient infects 10 to 20 contacts in a year, and there's no reason to suspect that this strain is any less transmissible," adding "Short of quarantining them in hospitals with isolation facilities till they become non-infectious—which is not practical or possible—there is nothing else one can do to prevent transmission."

TB is an airborne disease caused by bacteria and continues to be one of the world’s most significant causes of illness and mortality. Primarily affecting the lungs, TB is a debilitating illness, the slow moving nature of the bacteria means that the symptoms, including a persistent cough, weight loss and breathlessness, often don’t appear for several years after initial exposure to the disease. The disease can also spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, such occurrences are more common in patients with weakened immune systems, notably H.I.V.

Though the disease can be found in nations worldwide it is prevalent in developing countries. Since the 1990’s, the U.S have sought to address the issue of tuberculosis and are major funders of worldwide TB control.

Whilst The World Health Organization are reluctant to consider any TB infection as completely drug-resistant, officials admit that it would appear that untreatable cases do exist. TB (MDR-TB) does not respond to first line drugs, some 440,000 cases of this strain were found worldwide in 2008. TB (XDR-TB) is unresponsive to first and second line drugs, up to March 2010, XDR-TB was reported in 58 countries and territories.

Treatment for TB usually entails taking antibiotics for six to nine months, but unless the course is completed correctly, the bacteria are allowed to mutate into strains that are immune to the traditional treatments. A 2007, New Scientist Report confirmed two drug-resistant cases in Italy, in 2009, 15 patients were identified in Iran.

Last year, Jeannine Stein reported a fall in worldwide tuberculosis rates. In 2010, around 8.8 million people were infected with the disease, 1.4 million of those cases were fatal. In the same year the number of people who contracted the disease in the U.S fell, but drug-resistant varieties showed an increase.

Cutting Edge Correspondent Jude Freeman writes from London.

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