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WHO Cautions Against Spread of Drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Far greater efforts should be made to stop the spread of TB as about 420,000 of the estimated 8.8 million new cases of tuberculosis in the world were resistant to many standard anti-tuberculosis drugs, said a WHO spokesperson.

On average, a patient infected with drug-resistant TB in 2004 is found to show more resistant to drugs than a similar patient with that diagnosis in 1994, according to Dr Paul P Nunn, a TB expert with WHO. ``It may reach a point we will have take a great effort to stop the spread of infection,'' he said at a news conference early this month.

The news conference was prompted by Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta-based man with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis. Speaker flew in commercial flights for his wedding in Greece and honeymoon in Europe setting off an international health scare.

Speaker's is not an isolated case. Drug resistant TB has been reported from 37 countries this year. With the tremendous growth in international air travel, TB experts say: ``TB anywhere is TB everywhere''.

Coughing, sneezing, singing and many other such activity can easily spread tuberculosis bacteria through air. Anyone can become infected, but prolonged exposure is usually required.

``About 30,000 out of the 420,000 cases, are extremely drug resistant. This means they are resistant to first line and a number of second line drugs,'' according to a recent interview of Dr Mario C Raviglione, director of WHO's tuberculosis department.

This has prompted WHO to undertake statistical modelling studies to estimate how prevalent the drug-resistant tuberculosis might become. The study is yet to be published as the outcome depended on a number of variables.

``In impoverished countries with poor public health systems lacking in laboratory facilities, the drug resistant tuberculosis could replace standard TB,' Raviglione warned. In th ese places, the data on number and proportion of TB cases susceptible and resistant to drugs would not be available. Besides, the patients themselves may not know they have the disease.

Africa, where AIDS patients often get tuberculosis, tops the list. China, Eastern Europe and India are also major concerns. The Governments have the responsibility to take special efforts to stop the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis.


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