XDR-TB may sound like an android from a science fiction novel but if you’ve been reading up on recent news developments, you would know that the acronym actually stands for Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis. Despite the fact that tuberculosis still claims a lot of lives yearly, advances in pharmaceuticals and disease management has dramatically improved the prognosis for patients who have the unfortunate burden of bearing the disease. Tuberculosis is a caused by a mycobacterium that inhabits various organs in the human body. Though the disease is commonly associated as a disease of the lung, the microbe can also colonize parts of the gastrointestinal tract, bone and even the skin. Currently, a multi-drug approach is the strategy of choice in combating tuberculosis.
Unfortunately, there are types of the disease that are already resistant to the usual drugs that is used to cure the condition. The cases that fall under that category are called MDR cases – Multi-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis. In the developed world, cases of TB are rare. That is why American lawyer Andrew Speaker’s condition has been much publicized. Since TB can be transmitted from person-to-person via the oral secretions that may get suspended in the air once a patient sneezes, the fact that he was able to take a plane (a closed environment) raised red flags all over the US.
How do MDR and XDR cases arise? For the most part, this is due to the insufficient treatment that a patient receives. Tuberculosis needs to be treated with multiple drugs for six or more months to ensure that the infection will not return in the future. If a person stops taking the drugs midway into the treatment, the disease might come back and when it does, it will already be resistant to the available drugs to the disease. When that happens, doctors will be forced to use stronger medications with worse adverse effects and higher costs. Countries with markedly high cases of drug-resistant forms of TB include China, India, Russia and Argentina. This can be attributed to their poor or failing national health program in controlling TB.
Epidemiology and statistics is on our side though, it has been shown that drug-resistant forms of TB are less likely to be transmitted compared to the garden variety and more easy-to-treat type of the disease. Though the chances that you’ll get it is almost nil, it’s still best to give your body a fighting chance against infection by having a balanced diet and seeing your personal physician regularly for check-ups.