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Originally published July 13 2009

The Next Global Pandemic? Drug-Resistant TB

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The World Health Organization has warned that a global pandemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) may be imminent, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

"The situation is already alarming, and poised to grow much worse very quickly," said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization. "This is a situation set to spiral out of control. Call it what you may: a time bomb or a powder keg. Any way you look at it, this is a potentially explosive situation," Chan warned.

TB is a highly contagious disease of the lungs that infects 9 million people around the world each year, killing 2 million of them. The bacteria that cause the disease thrive in dark, damp places, and can be spread from person to person by a simple cough, sneeze or conversation. An untreated TB patient can infect between 10 and 15 other people with the disease in a single year.

Although TB has been mostly eliminated in wealthy countries and can be treated in poor countries if appropriate antibiotics are available. The increasing prevalence of drug-resistant strains has the disease poised to reemerge as a major global health threat.

Because TB treatment requires taking large numbers of pills daily for up to 6 months, many people do not complete their treatment, leading to the evolution of drug-resistant varieties.

"Instead of taking two to four pills, one has to take 13 pills. Put yourself in the position of the patient. Thirteen pills are not 13 candies," Chan said.

Multi-drug-resistant TB -- any strain that is resistant to both front-line TB drugs -- is already a major health problem throughout the world, particularly in Bangladesh, China, India, South Africa and Russia. Even more alarming, 54 countries have already reported cases of extensively drug-resistant TB, or a variety that is resistant to all known TB drugs.

Speaking alongside Chan, Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates said that overconfidence in the medical field has contributed to the new TB threat.

"The most commonly used [TB] diagnostic test is today more than 125 years old," he said. "The vaccine was developed more than 80 years ago, and drugs have not changed in 50 years."

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