Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"India in Race to Contain Untreatable Tuberculosis"

A major, major story.
From the Wall Street Journal:
India's slow response to years of medical warnings now threatens to turn the country into an incubator for a mutant strain of tuberculosis that is proving resistant to all known treatments, raising alarms of a new global health hazard.

"We finally have ended up with a virtually untreatable strain" of tuberculosis in India, said Dr. Zarir Udwadia, one of the country's leading TB authorities.

In December, Dr. Udwadia reported in a medical journal that he had four tuberculosis patients resistant to all treatment. By January, he had a dozen cases, then 15.

A government backlash began immediately. Anonymous health-ministry officials denied the reports through media outlets. They accused Dr. Udwadia and his colleagues of starting a panic. A Mumbai city health official seized patient samples for verification in government labs.

In April, the government quietly confirmed the strain, according to internal Indian health-ministry documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Spread of the strain could return tuberculosis to the fatal plague that killed two-thirds of people afflicted, before modern treatments were developed in the 1940s, said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB Department of the World Health Organization. The WHO is now assisting India to combat the strain.

The number of known cases in India is small but geographically dispersed. Dr. Udwadia's patients are in Mumbai, at the P.D. Hinduja National Hospital & Medical Research Center. In the high-tech hub of Bangalore, St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences has seen six cases. And in New Delhi, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has confirmed another two, said officials at the institutions.

"While this handful of cases is worrying, it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, of India's National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis. For treatments, Dr. Udwadia said, "We've got nothing."

Ashok Kumar, head of India's tuberculosis-control program, said the government was "seriously addressing" the widening drug-resistance problem. However, he refuted Dr. Udwadia's description of a "totally drug-resistant" TB strain—not because there is a treatment, but because the term isn't internationally recognized and a new cure could be discovered....MUCH MORE
HT: naked capitalism