Where Are the TB Alarms?


February 19, 2013
Ken Patterson

We’ve watched as the media have sounded the alarm around SARS, Bird Flu, and even this year’s annual flu virus — every major media outlet has covered these global health stories. But where is the alarm and concern about tuberculosis? Where is the sense of urgency around a disease that has gone from a treatable form to become multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), then extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), and now totally drug-resistant TDR-TB? What are we waiting for? Where are the alarms when TB killed 1.4 million and nearly 9 million people fell ill with it in 2011? Shouldn’t we be concerned that someone who develops an active case of TB will infect, on average, 15 people with whatever strain they have — including all of the drug-resistant strains? Where are the extraordinary measures for a disease that is the second largest infectious killer in the world behind HIV/AIDS?

Perhaps there is little alarm because 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Perhaps there is little alarm because many think that TB will stay where it is — that it won’t come and find us in the U.S. or in other prosperous nations? That’s what CDC noted that 8 percent of U.S. cases were drug resistant.

  • Here the CDC notes number of cases of drug-resistant TB in the U.S.
  • As early as 1991 there was a drug-resistant TB outbreak in NYC that cost over $1 billion to contain.
  • Without our advocacy, many will remain complacent, including out government decision makers. It’s time to sound the alarm.

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