Researchers have come out with a simple strategy that could prevent most of the fatal tuberculosis infection. The researcher team that included an Indian researcher said that by using a combination of inexpensive infection control in hospitals, half the new cases of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) could be prevented.
The study was led by Gerald Friedland, M.D., a professor of medicine at Yale School Of Medicine with his team including Sanjay Basu M.D., Ph.D. student at Yale. XDR TB is also dubbed as 'Ebola With Wings' owing to its ability to rapidly spread and kill, has been reported in 37 countries and has been identified in all regions of the world, including the United States.
According to the researchers, this disease has turned out to be an epidemic among hospitalized patients in South Africa. Frequent cases of XDR TB are diagnosed every province of South Africa, and are particularly rampant in the area surrounding Tugela Ferry.
In order to examine the spread of XDR TB, the researchers developed a computer model of a virtual world that included data of over two years from Tugela Ferry. This model was 95 pct accurate at calculating XDR trends and other forms of TB in the region.
The study presents the first estimates of the XDR TB burden in South Africa. The model predicted that over 1,300 cases of XDR TB could arise in the Tugela Ferry region by the end of 2012. "It is critically important to take steps now to prevent further spread of XDR TB," The Lancet quoted Basu, as saying.
He added: "If we wait to act, this form of TB will spread further in the community and beyond borders. When a drug resistant strain hit New York in the 1990s, it cost over $1 billion to bring under control."
TB is caused by bacteria targeting the lungs and is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. A huge majority of the XDR TB cases ios constituted by HIV-positive people, as they have a greater risk of infection.
According to the authors, the best way for effectively tackling this type of TB is to change the healthcare environment. The researchers said that the use of masks alone would prevent less than 10 pct of cases in this general epidemic; however, they could be beneficial to many healthcare workers.
They also indicated that if the time spent in the hospital and shifting to outpatient therapy is reduced, this could prevent almost one-third of cases. The authors also said that nearly half of XDR TB cases could be prevented through managing hospital overcrowding, improving ventilation, enhancing access to HIV treatment, and providing faster diagnostic tests.
Basu said that the problem is multiplied in South Africa with long waiting lists of around 70 patients in the hope of getting admitted to hospitals, and crowded wards with nearly 40 people crammed into a single room.
Some patients even have to sleep on the floor, and a number of them travel for days to reach the hospital. "We can do a lot to change what is going on," said Dr. Friedland.
He added: "This is a train crash between the two epidemics of HIV and TB, and we have to address both problems together to fix this situation."
The study is published in a recent issue of Lancet.