Not Scared of TB? You Should Be

Resistant strain could ravage the world, and we're not ready
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2008 1:32 PM CST
XDR, the once rare but now increasingly common strain of tuberculosis, is resistant to drugs and can spread easily when an infected patient coughs.   (AP GRAPHIC)
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(Newser) – "Global complacency" could give rise to a terrifying, drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times—and not in some remote outpost on the globe. There have been fewer than 100 cases of this XDR-TB in the past 15 years in the US, but with increasing international travel, a single cough could trigger a massive outbreak. What's worse? No one's doing anything about it.

From where Kristof reports in Armenia, the sole treatment program has room for only 15% of TB patients, and only half of those see improvement. Meanwhile, infected people take public transportation, making them essentially ticking time bombs. "Americans don’t think much about TB, just as we didn’t think much of AIDS in the 1980s," writes Kristof. But unlike Reagan, who ignored AIDS until his second term, the incoming administration needs to act as though this burgeoning pandemic were an imminent military threat, Kristof concludes.