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International News

New Deadly TB Strain Detected in South Africa

September 5, 2006

A new, extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis has emerged from the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, killing 52 of the 53 people infected in the last year, the World Health Organization said Friday. Two of the six second-line medicines used as a last line of defense against TB proved ineffective against the new strain.

"We are extremely worried about the issue of extreme drug resistance," said Paul Nunn, coordinator of WHO's drug resistance department. "If countries don't have the diagnostic capacity to find these patients, they will die without proper treatment."

Though drug resistance is a common problem associated with TB treatment, high mortality rates among TB patients in South Africa prompted researchers to investigate the cases. This ultimately led to the discovery of the new strain. About 2 percent of worldwide drug-resistant TB cases are classified as extremely drug-resistant. Little data exist on extreme drug resistance in Africa, but it is believed to be increasing.

"Genetic processes are constantly throwing up mutations of tuberculosis … so this may have arisen due to some particular quirk of the environment or the way [patients] were treated or their genetic background," said Paul Fine, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The issue of treating extremely drug-resistant TB is complicated by Africa's high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. "It's urgent to make the diagnosis when HIV is involved, because if you don't make it, the combination of HIV and TB will kill," Nunn said.

WHO and its partners, including CDC and the South African Medical Research Council, plan to meet in South Africa over two days to discuss the new strain and better ways to diagnose and treat TB, said Nunn.

Back to other news for September 5, 2006

Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.01.2006; Maria Cheng

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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