Indian doctors have reported the country’s first cases of “totally drug-resistant tuberculosis,” a long-feared and virtually untreatable form of the killer lung disease. It’s not the first time highly resistant cases like this have been seen. Since 2003, patients have been documented in Italy and Iran. It has mostly been limited to impoverished areas, and has not spread widely. But experts believe there could be many undocumented cases.
No one expects the Indian TB strains to rapidly spread elsewhere. The airborne disease is mainly transmitted through close personal contact and isn’t nearly as contagious as the flu. Indeed, most of the cases of this kind of TB were not from person-to-person infection but were mutations that occurred in poorly treated patients.
What’s more, there’s a debate within the public health community about whether to even label TB infections as totally drug resistant. The World Health Organization hasn’t accepted the term and still considers the cases to be what’s now called extensively drug-resistant TB, or XDR. However, Dr. Paul Nunn, a coordinator at the WHO’s Stop TB Department in Geneva, said there is ample proof that these virtually untreatable cases do exist.
The Indian hospital that saw the initial cases tested a dozen medicines and none of them worked, a pretty comprehensive assessment. A TB expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they do appear to be totally resistant to available drugs. “It is concerning,” said Dr. Kenneth Castro, director of the CDC’s Division of Tuberculosis Elimination. “Anytime we see something like this, we better get on top of it before it becomes a more widespread problem.”
Ordinary TB is easily cured by taking antibiotics for six to nine months. However, if that treatment is interrupted or the dose is cut down, the stubborn bacteria battle back and mutate into a tougher strain that can no longer be killed by standard drugs. The disease becomes harder and more expensive to treat.
In India, doctors in Mumbai have reported a total of 12 patients who failed initial treatment and also didn’t respond to the medicines tried next over an average of two to three years. Three have died. None of the others have been successfully treated.
The full article may be accessed at http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2012–01-16/India-reports-new-TB-strain-resistant-to-all-drugs/52592516/1
The WHO statement may be accessed at http://www.who.int/tb/challenges/mdr/tdrfaqs/en/index.html
(USA Today 1/16/2012)