Antibiotic Resistant TB On The Rise

Elaine Radford

Antibiotic resistant tuberculosis (TB) strains are on the rise, and both Africa and Europe have fallen behind their goal of cutting the 1990 death rate from TB in half by 2015. That's what the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying on Sunday, which is World TB Day 2013.

While the data from 2012 is still being compiled, the statistics from 2011 are sobering. There were almost 9 million new cases diagnosed in that year, and 1.4 million TB patients died of their disease. Only 60,000 of the 300,000 people who were told that they had multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) were getting treatment for it.

One bit of good news: WHO said that the death rate from TB has already fallen 40 percent since 1990.

The British medical journal The Lancet also marked World TB Day with a series of papers on the fight against the disease. Noting that there are now 630,000 cases of MDR-TB worldwide, they added that an even worse strain has emerged in the past eight years -- extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR) which doesn't respond to most or any known drugs.

In an age of global air travel, XDR has already been diagnosed in 84 countries, "heralding the possibility of virtually untreatable tuberculosis."

The human battle against TB has been a long one, but until the rise of the antibiotic resistant strains, we seemed to be winning. The Stop TB Partnership said that when the TB bacillus was first discovered in 1882, the TB plague was at its height in Europe and the Americas, killing an estimated one out of every seven people.

One of The Lancet papers emphasized that doctors need new, cost-effective tests for antibiotic resistant TB to make sure that patients are identified and helped as quickly as possible.