A tuberculosis patient takes antibiotics near Mumbai, India. Doctors… (AP Photo / Rafiq Maqbool )
At least a dozen people in India are infected with a type of tuberculosis that is resistant to all antibiotics used to treat the disease.
In December, the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases published an online report that documented four of the cases. This weekend, news outlets in India reported that there were actually at least 12 people with the drug-resistant lung disease.
Officials fear that what they've seen so far is just the beginning, and that many more cases are lurking undetected.
"It's estimated that on average, a tuberculosis patient infects 10 to 20 contacts in a year, and there's no reason to suspect that this strain is any less transmissible," study co-author Zarir Udwadia of the Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Mumbai told New Scientist. "Short of quarantining them in hospitals with isolation facilities till they become non-infectious – which is not practical or possible – there is nothing else one can do to prevent transmission."
Patients with TB must take antibiotics for a long time to cure the disease. Many don't get the right medications, or don't take their medications properly, which allows the evolution of drug-resistant strains.
Over time, TB-causing bacteria have become resistant to more and more types of antibiotics -- and, now, apparently, all antibiotics. This is not the first outbreak of totally drug resistant TB. According to the New Scientist report, in 2007, two patients were identified with the disease in Italy; in 2009, 15 patients were identified with the disease in Iran.
Booster Shots' Jeannine Stein reported last year that worldwide, tuberculosis rates are falling. About 8.8 million people contracted the disease in 2010, and 1.4 million people died from it. In 2010, reporter Thomas H. Maugh II wrote that rates in the U.S. were falling too but noted that drug-resistant varieties were on the rise worldwide.
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