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Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Threatens Global Health

Last updated Sept. 17, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately eight million people globally are infected with tuberculosis each year. A study in the journal Lancent reports that 3 million of those cases are both undiagnosed and untreated. More than a million die from the disease.


According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately eight million people globally are infected with tuberculosis each year. A study in the journal Lancent reports that 3 million of those cases are both undiagnosed and untreated. More than a million die from the disease.

Tuberculosis (TB), which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is contagious and individuals are infected when they inhale air that was exhaled from another individual with tuberculosis via cough, laugh, or singing. 

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released a briefing paper explaining a growing epidemic of tuberculosis strains that are drug-resistant. Drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) is much more difficult to cure and 500,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. 

MSF Medical Director Dr. Sidney Wong says, “The DR-TB crisis is everybody's problem and demands an immediate international response. It doesn't matter where you live; until new short and more effective treatment combinations are found, the odds of surviving this disease today are dismal.”

Standard tuberculosis drugs do not treat the new forms of the disease. One of the reasons that DR-TB is spreading so swiftly is because only one in five infected receive proper treatment. Treatment for MDR-TB can last up to two years, during which time a patient may swallow 10,000 pills and have daily injections for eight months. This treatment still may not work. 

The new strains of tuberculosis have spread and MSF concluded that the number of cases has doubled in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years.

There are currently five to eight drugs used to treat resistant TB depending on the treatment needed. The two newest drugs available are actually the first new TB medications developed in 40 years.

“Although that’s cause for optimism,” Dr. Phillip Du Cros, a tuberculosis advisor for the group said, “we still don’t know how to use those drugs in new regimens. And so we’re limited by adding them to a regimen that is already highly toxic and difficult for patients to take.”

Additional Resource:

MSF Crisis Alert: The new face of an old disease: urgent action needed to tackle global drug-resistant TB threat

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 30, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 17, 2015