Photo: Flickr/Pulmonary Pathology
A new strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to all current treatments has been spreading — and a lack of good equipment may be helping the disease thrive.Although largely unreported in the media, cases of total drug-resistant TB (TDR-TB) were first recorded in Italy in 2007, followed by Iran in 2009. Now, India is infected, with 15 cases documented in January, confirmed by the health ministry in April.
“While this handful of cases is worrying, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan of India’s National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
The virus has been developing a resistance to treatment for some time, with recorded rates of multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) reaching their highest levels ever, according to the World Health organisation (WHO).
A key factor in the spread of the new totally resistant variant is the mistreatment of people with MDR-TB, as only two-thirds of countries are scientifically capable of correctly identifying MDR-TB in labs.
When patients with MDR-TB are diagnosed with regular TB and subsequently treated, the infection responds to the incorrect treatment by becoming increasingly resistant, causing MDR-TB to evolve into XDR-TB and in some cases, TDR-TB.
Although at the moment, no cure for TDR-TB is known, some scientists and doctors are hesitant to label the new strain total drug-resistant. For one, the term isn’t internationally recognised.
Thus far, the strain hasn’t been confirmed in labs. But real life confirmation provides more evidence than most people need; four out of the 15 people in India with the strain have died, despite comprehensive treatment.
Health officials and scientists are justifiably worried about the spread of TDR-TB. Estimates by the WHO predict that one person infected with TB can infect 15 more people. And the spread of a newly resistant strain has been studied before and offers some grim news. XDR was first discovered in 2006. It has since been found in 77 countries.
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