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The Dreaded Disease Tuberculosis Raises Its Ugly Head

ged vast swaths of humanity.

Ironically, there has long been a disturbing tendency to romanticize the white plague, as tuberculosis is also known.

But in real life, tuberculosis is a messy, agonizing and debilitating ordeal. Once the tubercle bacilli gain the momentum to proceed unchecked through the body, there is no romance to be found. The actual experience of tuberculosis is one of exhaustion, drenching bouts of sweating, groaning, a cough punctuated by uncontrollable spurts of blood.

XDR TB is already too widespread to quarantine. We need to combat it globally before it becomes pandemic. Last week, the WHO asked governments worldwide to pay up the $3 billion a year needed to fund existing TB programs and an additional $1 billion a year to combat XDR TB. In the U.S., Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and others proposed spending $300 million on TB next year, much of it on research. Given that isolating and treating a single XDR patient can cost up to $250,000, the case for spending far more on prevention and control is self-evident.

Today, more than one-third of the world's more than 6 billion people have been exposed to the tuberculosis germ. Five to 10 percent of them, or at least 100 million, will develop symptomatic TB. Each will infect 10 to 20 people before they are either successfully treated or they die. Last year, active -- and contagious -- tuberculosis was diagnosed in more than 8.8 million people.

Approximately 420,000, or 5 percent, of them have a drug-resistant strain that requires several more medications than drug-sensitive cases do; about 30,000 of these 420,000 cases are even more difficult and expensive to treat, the highly lethal XDR-TB.


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