Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Why we need new treatments for tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. Nearly 9 million people a year become ill with TB and over 1 million die. TB causes a quarter of all deaths in people with HIV. Cases of tuberculosis continue to increase in Britain with about 9000 cases a year, 40 per cent of which are in London.

Worryingly, there is also an increase in multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and even extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) which means that the bacteria causing some people's disease fails to respond to conventional treatment. The extensive therapy necessary to treat these people is very expensive, can produce adverse drug reactions and must be taken for up to 2 years. Death rates of people with MDR-TB are much higher than other forms of the disease. For example, in 2010, about 440,000 people fell ill with MDR-TB and 150,000 died (34 per cent).

Tuberculomucin - a forgotten treatment - may give us a powerful 'new' method of combatting this ancient but continually burdensome disease which has always claimed more lives amongst the young and economically active than any other age group.

Photograph by Mary Hinkley, UCL Media Services, Photography