TB drug-resistant cases are spreading at an alarming rate in Europe and will kill thousands unless health authorities halt the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Launching a new regional plan to find, diagnose and treat cases of the airborne infectious disease more effectively, the WHO’s European director warned that complacency had allowed a resurgence of TB and failure to tackle it now would mean huge human and economic costs in the future.
“TB is an old disease that never went away, and now it is evolving with a vengeance,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab.
TB is currently a worldwide pandemic that kills around 1.7 million people a year. The infection is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and destroys patients’ lung tissue, causing them to cough up the bacteria, which then spreads through the air and can be inhaled by others.
Cases of multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) — where the infections are resistant to first-line and then second-line antibiotic treatments — are spreading fast, with about 440,000 new patients every year around the world.
According to the WHO and Stop TB, 15 of the 27 countries with the highest burden of MDR-TB are in the WHO’s European region, which includes 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia.
“Nobody in Europe is 100 percent protected from drug-resistant tuberculosis,” said Ogtay Gozalov, a medical officer at the World Health Organization.
Ibrahim Abubakar, a TB expert at Britain`s Health Protection Agency (HPA), called on health officials to take the lead in the fight against the condition.
Anna Watterson, who lives in northwest Lodon, spoke of how she became ill with drug-resistant TB. She eventually made a full recovery but spent four months in hospital. “Once I’d been admitted to hospital, I started the standard three-drug regime,” she said.
“But six weeks later came the depressing news that none of the three antibiotics were effective.” She had the impression that the doctors were giving up. “The next cocktail of drugs left me feeling unwell. I had bruises from injecting them, and one of the side-effects was sensitivity to the sun.
More than 80,000 new cases of the lung disease are reported each year in Western Europe, London being the hardest hit capital city with 3,500 new TB cases diagnosed annually.