A report has stressed the need for an overhaul of Australia's TB strategy by showing that the incidences of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are on the rise.
Based on a review of Victorian Health Department data, the report points out that 31 persons were diagnosed with MDR-TB, a mutant strain that is resistant to two of the most effective antibiotics used to treat TB, from 1998 to 2007.
It further reveals that most of the cases occurred in the final few years of the 10-year review window, with seven recorded in each of 2004, 2006 and 2007.
"Our study revealed that there was a clear increase in the number of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB," the Australian quoted Caroline Lavender, a scientist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, as writing.
"New data available since the completion of our study reveal that the increase ... appears to have been sustained in 2008."
According to the review, the cases of MDR-TB have risen five-fold as a proportion of all TB notifications in Victoria.
In a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Lavender says that the upward trend has "significant implications for public health policy and planning".
MDR-TB is the result of improper use of these antibiotics during treatment of patients with ordinary TB.
People with the resistant strain must be put on alternate, and less effective, TB-fighting drugs that require specialist nurses and a longer hospital stay, treatment in a negative-pressure rooms and more lab tests.
About 29 out of 31 MDR-TB patients were born overseas, with almost two thirds coming from India, Vietnam or China.
Lavender says that new TB control strategies are needed, and the use of molecular tests should be increased for the rapid detection of drug resistance.
"Another measure that might prove useful is providing information to people at high risk of TB on arrival to Australia, so they know to seek medical attention early should they develop a persistent cough or other symptoms suggesting of TB," she said.