Feature

Health scare of the week: A TB strain that can’t be treated

Twelve tuberculosis patients in India have failed to respond to the antibiotics doctors prescribed.

A dozen tuberculosis patients at a Mumbai hospital have failed to respond to any treatment, sparking fears that a totally drug-resistant TB strain could be spreading. The lung disease, which kills roughly 1.5 million people worldwide every year, was once easily treatable with antibiotics. But in recent years, varieties resistant to one or more drugs have proliferated around the world.

Researchers say patients often fail to complete the six- to nine-month course of antibiotics required to destroy TB bacteria, allowing some microbes to survive and mutate into harder-to-kill forms. That’s the suspected cause of the new Indian strain, which will “spread for sure” among the country’s dense population, Zarir Udwadia, one of the doctors who discovered the bacteria’s resistance, tells the Associated Press.

Almost one in three people around the globe harbors dormant TB bacteria, and the disease becomes active in 10 percent of them. A contagious individual can infect some 20 more people per year. The patients diagnosed with the new Indian strain are “probably just the tip of the iceberg,” says Ruth McNerney, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “This is a global problem, not just an Indian one.”

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