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Health Officials Worried MDR-TB Will Become More Common Worldwide, In U.S.

The case of a Nepalese man with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) traveling through 13 countries before illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico, “first described by Betsy McKay at the Wall Street Journal, provides a window on a problem that health officials say is sure to arise more and more often,” NPR’s “Shots” blog reports. “‘We estimate at any one time in the world there are about 630,000 cases of MDR-TB,’ Dr. Dennis Falzon of the World Health Organization tells Shots, referring to multidrug-resistant TB,” the blog writes. Of those, about 60,000 have XDR-TB, which is resistant to second-line drugs as well as first-line therapies, according to the blog. “The CDC has recorded 63 cases of XDR-TB from 1993 through 2011 (the most recent data available), more than half of them among foreign-born people,” “Shots” writes (Knox, 3/8).

In a related article, the Wall Street Journal reports there is “a nagging concern among health officials who say the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico could become a breeding ground for one of the hardest forms of TB to treat.” The newspaper continues, “To be sure, the actual number of cases in the U.S. and Mexico is still small and the rates of multidrug-resistant TB … are nowhere near as severe as India, China, or Eastern Europe, where drug-resistant TB is at epidemic proportions,” but “[h]ealth officials say it is crucial to jump on prevention now, because the disease is transmitted airborne and can spread quickly.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “the challenge of trying to control an airborne disease along an area as large as the U.S.-Mexico border is enormous.” The newspaper discusses the dynamics of the border region, funding issues, and challenges to keeping patients compliant with medication regimens (McKay/Campo-Flores, 3/8).