Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Update on Tuberculosis

Here is an excellent article on tuberculosis published in Nature.

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacteria and is spread largely through the air (when someone with TB in his or her lungs coughs, et cetera). TB commonly causes lung disease, but can involve many other parts of the body, as well. Most people who are exposed to TB do not develop active infection; rather, they develop "latent" infections where they are not infectious and the bacteria are dormant. Although people with latent infections can go on to later develop active infections, the majority do not. If a person develops an immune-system compromising disease (such as HIV) he or she is then much more likely to develop active TB infection. TB is a deadly illness; in 2011 there were 1.4 million TB deaths globally.

It is estimated that one-third of people worldwide are infected with TB.

The Nature article provides a comprehensive overview of what is currently going on with TB globally, and discusses the problem of TB drug resistance in great detail. Identifying drug resistance in TB is time-consuming and difficult and testing for this is far from universal. The article also highlights what has contributed to the emergence of drug-resistant TB, including the breakdown of public health infrastructure and TB control programs.

What are needed are better antibiotics for drug-resistant TB and, the "holy grail" for TB control, a highly effective vaccine. Additionally, tests for drug resistance need to get better, faster and cheaper, and TB control programs need to be supported aggressively.

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