Highest levels ever of drug-resistant TB found, in Europe

tuberculosis patient, El Salvador

People are always surprised by this one basic fact about tuberculosis: One out of every three people on the planet are currently infected with this airborne bacterium.

That’s why the problem of increasing outbreaks of drug-resistant strains of TB is so worrisome to health officials. Tuberculosis spreads a lot easier than many other diseases globally and we are losing our ability to fight it.

Perhaps equally surprising to some will be the new reports that the highest rates ever recorded of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) are not in Africa or the developing world but in Eastern Europe — Russia and Moldova. Sarah Boseley in The Guardian writes:

It shows the highest-ever recorded levels of MDR-TB. In some countries, 65% of patients who have previously been treated for TB end up back in hospital with a drug-resistant strain. The clear message is that their TB was not sufficiently well treated the first time around.

Of all the big killers out there on the global health landscape, TB has always been one of the biggest. But it seldom gets anywhere near the same attention as HIV, malaria or even less deadly threats (in terms of mortality numbers) such as, say, maternal mortality or malnutrition.

This stunning finding, that E. Europe is home to the highest rates of drug-resistant TB ever found, is getting some attention, but not much.

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About Author

Editor Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom-at-humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • Jamie

    Hi Tom – Do you think this finding is a reflection of reality or a consequence of better MDR-TB diagnostic capacity in Eastern Europe versus Africa?

    • http://twitter.com/tompaulson Tom Paulson

      Hi Jamie,

      That’s a good question. I suspect better diagnostic capacity may be part of it, but there’s no question TB rates in Eastern Europe are high and the health care response pretty spotty. So it’s not surprising to see high rates of drug resistant TB.
      Cheers