Jan 22 (IPS) – Enforced quarantines may be needed in South Africa and elsewhere to bring a deadly, contagious and drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis under control, health experts say.
An outbreak of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province gained the attention of the World Health Organisation last year. Hundreds have been infected and the fatality rate is extremely high.
“The problem is a lot bigger than we know,” said Jerome Amir Singh, an HIV/AIDS expert at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.
“The high rates of normal TB and HIV infection in KZN ( KwaZulu-Natal) has created a very explosive disease cocktail,” Singh told IPS from Durban.
In a survey of TB patients last year, 51 percent of the XDR patients had no prior TB treatment, suggesting that they had been newly infected by XDR-TB strains. In less than 25 days, 52 of the 53 XDR-TB patients died, a death rate unprecedented anywhere in the world, Singh and colleagues write in a policy paper “XDR-TB in South Africa: No Time for Denialism or Complacency” published Monday in the journal PLoS Medicine.
Given South Africa’s international tourism boom and global trade and transport systems, the XDR-TB outbreak represents “a potentially explosive international health crisis,” they write.