August 30, 2012

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.

Afghan women look on as a child lies on a bed in a tuberculosis section of the main hospital in Herat (AFP Photo / Aref Karimi)

Presently, most seem to worry about diseases of the exotic type: Bird or swine flu, or West Nile virus generally tend to dominate headlines in the West. But scientists are warning that the world is in the midst of a tuberculosis pandemic.

In 2010, 8.8 million people were infected with TB, with 1.4 million dying from the disease.Treating TB is an arduous process. Patients often require a multitude of drugs, with treatment lasting for up to six months. Many patients fail to complete the process correctly – which researchers believe is a factor in the increase of cases of drug-resistant forms of TB.

Drug-resistant TB is not only more difficult to treat, but also more expensive. Chief Scientific Officer Tom Evans of Aeras, a non-profit group working on development of new vaccines, told Reuters that “without a robust pipeline of new drugs to stay one step ahead, it will be nearly impossible to treat our way out of this epidemic.” But the treatment, Evans said, is “limited, expensive, and toxic.”

This article first appeared on RT.com.

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