(RxWiki News) When a disease becomes resistant to its current treatment, there is cause for widespread concern. That's what is happening in India today, as drug-resistant tuberculosis cases are on the rise.
An incurable strain of tuberculosis has emerged in India and public health officials fear that the disease could become an epidemic.
It's called Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, and there are signs that it is spreading.
"Ask your doctor about your tuberculosis risk."
Although most Americans think of tuberculosis as a disease of the past, it's one of the world's biggest killers. The emergence of an incurable form of tuberculosis first received attention in January 2012.
Now The Times of India reports that as many as 105 cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) cases have been reported in the past three and a half months.
Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (TDR-TB) is a deadlier form of the strains of tuberculosis like MDR-TB. That means that the current line of treatment is not effective in fighting the disease and that it's essentially incurable.
To add to that, tuberculosis is highly infectious and many patients go untreated, unaware of the symptoms. Tuberculosis already kills millions of people each year, and often couples with HIV to create a difficult-to-treat co-infection.
Drug resistance has arisen in tuberculosis for many reasons. Often, patients do not finish their full course of treatment – meaning that they do not take all of the drugs in their prescription – which gives the disease the opportunity to create resistance.
Another reason is that few people are checked for drug resistance when diagnosed with tuberculosis. They could be receiving inappropriate treatment, or in some regions, the right drugs may simply not be available.
TDR-TB was first reported in Iran in 2009. They were discovered within an outbreak of MDR-TB – a pocket of disease that wasn't just tougher to treat, but impossible.
It's suspected that the cases that have been diagnosed are the tip of the iceberg. A study in India found that only five of 106 private practitioners could correctly diagnose a hypothetical patient with MDR-TB.
That means that many patients with drug resistant tuberculosis are likely receiving the wrong treatment, adding to resistance.
A patient with TB can infect up to 15 other people, health authorities estimate.
There have been a few reported cases of drug resistant TB in the United States, although TDR-TB has not yet been diagnosed.
Public health officials are worried because India appears to be unprepared to fight drug resistant TB. New research and development for TB drugs has sprung up as awareness of the new dangers of TB grows.