Drug Resistance Causes TB Worries

Tuberculosis report from WHO warns that drug resistance threatens TB progress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Tuberculosis might not be a huge concern in the US these days, but a new report on the state of tuberculosis around the globe showed that international progress still needs to be made.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its annual Global Tuberculosis Report for 2013.

The report showed that, while instances of tuberculosis are declining around the world, high infection numbers continue, and issues like resistance to drugs highlight the need for continued vigilance in the face of the disease.

"Cough into a tissue to help prevent the spread of bacteria."

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that usually affects the lungs. The infection is spread through the air, like when an infected person sneezes or coughs. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when a person becomes sick with TB, symptoms can include a bad cough, chest pain, weakness, weight loss, chills, fever and coughing up blood or sputum. The disease can be treated through the use of several medications over a period of several months. 

"It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, taking the drugs exactly as prescribed," explained CDC. "If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the drugs correctly, the TB bacteria that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat."

CDC reported that 9,945 TB cases (a rate of 3.2 cases per 100,000) were seen in the US during 2012, numbers that represent a 5.4 percent drop in TB cases and a 6.1 percent decline in the rate of TB from 2011. Though US rates are relatively low, the disease is still a huge issue around the globe.

In the new report, WHO explained that TB treatment helped to save the lives of over 22 million people, and that the number of TB illnesses (8.6 million) and deaths (1.3 million) around the globe fell in 2012. 

Global targets were set in 1990 for reducing TB by the year 2015. WHO reported that the world is on track to reduce the number of deaths from TB by 50 percent by the year 2015. By 2012, the rate of TB deaths had fallen 45 percent from 1990.

However, the world is not currently on track to meet the goal for reducing the prevalence of TB.

"By 2012, the level of active TB disease in the community (prevalence) had fallen by 37 percent globally since 1990," reported WHO. "The target of a 50 percent reduction by 2015 is not expected to be achieved."

The report also noted that multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a major concern, and instances of MDR-TB are not being detected and treated at the desired levels. WHO estimated that in 2012, 450,000 people developed MDR-TB, resulting in 170,000 deaths.

To combat this problem, WHO reported that MDR-TB needs to be addressed as a public health crisis by politicians, drug regulatory authorities, the general public and the pharmaceutical industry.

In a WHO news release, Mario Raviglione, MD, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme, highlighted the serious nature of instances of MDR-TB around the globe.

“The unmet demand for a full-scale and quality response to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is a real public health crisis. It is unacceptable that increased access to diagnosis is not being matched by increased access to MDR-TB care," said Dr. Raviglione. "We have patients diagnosed but not enough drug supplies or trained people to treat them. The alert on antimicrobial resistance has been sounded; now is the time to act to halt drug-resistant TB.”

The Global Tuberculosis Report 2013 was released October 23. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
October 23, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014