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The WHO

New deadly TB strain threatens to sweep the globe; WHO warns nations to prepare

Monday, October 23, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: the WHO, tuberculosis, infectious disease


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(NewsTarget) The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a warning regarding several deadly new strains of the tuberculosis (TB) virus. The new strains appear to be untreatable using current drug therapy, and are making their way rapidly across the globe.

Paul Nunn -- who heads the tuberculosis resistance team for WHO -- estimated the situation as a serious one, encompassing 9 million TB cases worldwide. WHO estimates that 180,000 of these cases -- roughly two percent -- could be XDR-TB, one of the newer strains. Nunn says "This is raising the spectre of something that we have been worried might happen for a decade -- the possibility of virtually untreatable TB."

The XDR-TB virus is resistant to conventional drug treatment, and it's been linked to deaths in several countries -- including the United States, Eastern Europe and Africa. If the XDR-TB virus spreads in Africa, it could affect the containment of the AIDS pandemic currently underway on that continent.

In the United States alone, 33 percent of those who have been diagnosed with XDR-TB have died. In March 2006, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) concluded there had been 64 cases of XDR-TB at that point, and 21 of those cases ended in the patient's death.

One of the most serious situations is in Africa, where all XDR-TB patients who could be tested were found to be HIV positive. With AIDS causing patients to become susceptible to any and all types of infection, tuberculosis is a major cause of death in people who already have AIDS. In addition, most African countries either do not have emergency plans in place or medical laboratories capable of collecting and analyzing data to track and deal with TB-infected citizens.

WHO officials and global TB experts will meet in an emergency two-day meeting in Johannesburg tomorrow to discuss recommendations for containment and to ensure all known TB patients take a full six-month course of drugs. This effort's goal will be to try and prevent drug resistance from developing. Those efforts have met with limited success so far.

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