Supertuberculosis

By | January 16, 2012

Sadly, this isn’t a post about crime-fighting tuberculosis (even though that would be cool). Ann emailed us this link last week about totally drug-resistant tuberculosis (TDR-TB).

There have been at least 12 patients who have contracted TDR-TB in India, though this first popped up in Iran in 2009. (Clearly I read the wrong magazines. That was, what, three years ago? Why are we just hearing about this now?!)

The drug-defeatable (yeah, that’s a word now) kind of TB is already a hard disease to kill, and is one of the biggest killers out there (well, out of the tiny, need-to-be-seen-with-a-microscope brand of killers, anyway). It’s also hard to treat. According to the article,

“At the best of times, TB treatment is difficult, requiring at least 6 months of pill combinations that have unpleasant side effects and must be taken long after the patient begins to feel well.”

You know what this means, right? Exactly: when you end up getting multi drug-resistant, extensively drug-resistant, or totally drug-resistant TB, you can just blame That Guy. You know, the one who refused to finish taking his antibiotics (or whatever drug it happened to be) because he was “feeling better.” (To show your gratitude, you can then infect him and fourteen of his closest friends. Just a thought.)

So, yay, supertuberculosis. Why is this important? Well, think about it: there are three drug-resistant strains of a major killer floating around out there. In the countries with active drug-resistant strains, a lack of lab space makes it difficult to detect–and therefore diagnose–which TB patients have a resistant strain.

Remember in 2007, when that lawyer from Atlanta flew to Europe and then back via Canada while infected with TB? (Here’s a refresher.) He had MDR-TB (multi drug-resistant) and I’m pretty sure he’s fine now, but what if he’d had TDR-TB and had infected other people? With his country-hopping ways, he could’ve left little TB-laden gifts in any number of places.

That could still happen, though probably not with that particular lawyer, and possibly with TDR-TB.

So…how many of you are immunized against TB? I am, but only because it’s a routine vaccination in the Philippines (where I was born). From what I can tell, it’s not routine in Canada (or at least in Alberta, my home province). So, you know, if there’s ever a TB epidemic, a good many Canadians–well, Albertans at least–would be wiped clear off the face of the planet.

I don’t know about you, but TDR-TB seems like it’d make a pretty good weapon of mass destruction. Luckily I am not a bio-engineering evil genius, but there’s probably someone out there who is. Though whether or not this evil genius can get his/her hands on a sample remains to be seen.

Scary? Yes, I think so. Now I’m off to find out when I need to get a booster shot for the TB vaccine.

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