Tuberculosis Soon to Be 'Virtually Untreatable'?

New study finds alarming rates of drug-resistant TB

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 30, 2012 1:20 PM CDT

(Newser) – Drug-resistant tuberculosis is on the rise, and a new study suggests that the lung disease may soon become "virtually untreatable." Multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is resistant to at least two first-line drugs, and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is also resistant to two more types of drugs. In Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, rates of both MDR and XDR are higher than had been thought—up to 10 times higher in certain areas—according to the study. "As more individuals are diagnosed with, and treated for, drug-resistant TB, more resistance to second-line drugs is expected to emerge," says a rep for the CDC, which ran the study.

Drug-resistant TB can take as long as two years to treat, compared to six months for normal TB, and is more likely to be fatal. Plus, it can cost 200 times more to treat—$250,000 or more per patient in the US—and the treatment is "limited, expensive, and toxic," one expert tells Reuters. Side effects can include deafness and psychosis. "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," the expert says. The study found XDR-TB in 77 countries around the world.

This 2009 photo shows a TB patient in Lopburi, Thailand.
This 2009 photo shows a TB patient in Lopburi, Thailand.   (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
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