Friday, February 15, 2013
African disease: The world could be on the brink of an outbreak of a deadly and virtually untreatable strain of drug resistant tuberculosis, doctors have warned
The first cases of totally drug-resistant tuberculosis have been found in South Africa. Clinics across the country ravaged by the bacterial lung infection, have reported an explosion in the number of patients struck down with a virulent strain. Fears are mounting that conventional treatments would be next to useless in the face of the new disease, which killed 1.4 million people globally in 2011, according to the World Health Organization. The disease is particularly prevalent in South Africa, where high rates of HIV/AIDS means that the immune systems of many more people are susceptible to infections. But compounding the problem is the high number of cases in which the illness is only partially treated. This has led to the disease evolving into a strain which is not vulnerable to antibiotics. Dr Uvistra Naidoo, who treats TB sufferers in a South African clinic, has horrific first-hand experience of the new disease after contracting a strain himself. He underwent three years of agonizing treatment after contracting the new multi-drug-resistant disease - only surviving after undergoing a cocktail of powerful drugs which caused life-threatening side effects. Naidoo contracted Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a complication from the treatment that causes layers of skin to separate from each other which caused him regularly to bleed from his eyes. As far back as March 2010, the World Health Organization warned that in some areas of the world, one in four people with tuberculosis were being struck down with the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs regimens. After widespread vaccination in much of the developed world, the disease has been largely isolated in 22 so-called high burden countries - including South Africa. These poorer regions account for around 80% of global cases of TB. Serious outbreaks have also been reported in Peru, Russia, and India during the last ten years.