Could this be the disease that we've been warned would be the next pandemic? WHO announced on Tuesday that drug resistant TB is spreading faster than medical experts had thought it would.
The strain of TB that drugs do not touch has topped 20 percent in some counties?
Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable to see rates like this," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of WHO's "Stop TB" department. "This demonstrates what happens when you keep making mistakes in TB treatment."
While the WHO survey is the world's largest one it has flaws. Only half of the world's countries provided the information collected from 2002 to 2006. In Africa suspected to be the hardest hit only 6 countries reported their findings. This is especially worrisome since the combo of AIDS and drug resistant TB could be a continental disaster.
With the lack of reporting Raviglione says that it is likely entire outbreaks of drug-resistant TB is being missed. Even more worrisome is the spread of XDR-TB. The strain is virtually a death sentence in poor countries. A 2006 outbreak in AIDS patients in South Africa killed almost every one infected within weeks. XDR-TB has been found in 45 countries.
Two of the most populated countries of the world have a high rate of drug-resistant TB, India and China. While theoretically a country that has strong treatment programs for TB should have little to fear China proves that theory could be very wrong. The government says that 94 percent of TB patients complete their first TB treatments.
There's a huge, gross discrepancy there if they are then reporting 25 percent of the world's multi-drug resistant TB cases," said Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group, a public health think tank. "They are clearly nurturing a multi-drug resistant TB epidemic and failing to report XDR-TB at all."
It may not take long for national health systems to be overwhelmed by the number of TB patients they are dealing with.
There was some good news though in the report. Estonia and Latvia are becoming the "models" after being drug resistant TB hot spots 13 years ago. Today after making a substantial investment and hitting the issue straight on their new TB rates are actually falling.
The strain that WHO is tracking does not respond to at least isoniazied and rifampin among the first-line anit-TB drugs and among second-line drugs, is resistant to any fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable drugs. Because the list of drugs that no longer pentetate the disease is growing the condition is costly to treat and can be fatal.
While TB isn't as easy to catch as the common cold it isn't that hard either. The disease is an airborne carrier so that coughs and sneezes from an infected person increases the risk of those around them.
With the strain that WHO is discussing treatment takes a long time to get the stain controlled. Daily medications for up to two years along with shots is common.
"Multi-drug resistant TB is a threat to every person on the planet," Harrington said. "It's not like HIV, where you are only infected through specific actions. TB is a threat to every person who takes a train or a plane."