U.S. health officials recently have treated an Indian woman in the country with drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Researchers, Jeff Cirillo and colleagues at the Texas A&M facility in Bryan, Texas, have developed a test that signals when enzymes produced only by TB bacteria are present, whittling the process to just 10 minutes from several days. They are further working on the methods to determine drug-resistance.
One of the greatest difficulties in dealing with the condition is diagnosis of the disease at the right time. The main symptoms of TB, like long-lasting cough and fever, are common to other illnesses.
Patients with TB are diagnosed only after they had the infection for months, as the bacteria are also slow growing. The increase in drug-resistant versions of the bug adds to the urgency in detecting TB more quickly.
"The challenge is absolutely the diagnosis," says Andrew Steenhoff, a pediatrics professor at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and TB specialist.
Tuberculosis can affect any organ in the body, but the most common—and most important, from a public health perspective—is the lung. TB isn't as contagious as many other infectious diseases, like measles, but it is a particular concern for children and people with weakened immune systems.
"The bacteria are transmitted through the air, and infection occurs after spending significant time in a confined space. Transmission in public places, including airplanes, is unlikely but possible," said Dr. Steenhoff.