Lethal drug-resistant TB spreads at alarming rate in South Africa

August 17th, 2008 - 6:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Aug 17 (DPA) A drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis (TB) is spreading at an alarming rate in South Africa and is threatening to overwhelm health services in neighbouring countries, a report in the country’s Sunday Times said. The report said that one-sixth of the world’s cases of extensively drug-resistant TB, or XDR-TB, were in South Africa.

New strains were developing independently of each other in different parts of the country, the report said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has opened an office in South Africa to help the government deal with the spread of the lethal disease.

The official figure for the number of deaths from XDR-TB in South Africa is 1,000, but the true figure is estimated to be much higher.

Some 40 hospitals have reported cases of XDR-TB, an increase of 40 percent on the previous year.

Patients die on average 16 days after being diagnosed.

Normally an acute case of TB can be treated with antibiotics, but if the drugs are used incorrectly, drug-resistant strains can develop which can only be treated with second-line drugs.

If the second-line drugs are also used incorrectly, extremely drug-resistant bacteria can develop which are untreatable.

WHO estimates that one-third of the world’s population has TB bacteria.

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