TB killing homeless, poor, prisoners [3 million people worldwide

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 26 Feb 1999 20:20:45 -0800 (PST)

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FWD Source, National Public Radio - Boston, 2/25/99

MDRTB -- this disease acronym will increasingly become familiar to Americans
as infection and death rates from it increase in this country.  Already MDRTB
kills more people world-wide than AIDS (approximatley 3,000,000 per year
now), more Russians than any other cause of death (250,000 per year).  Unlike
the HIV virus, MDRTB is spread simply by diseased droplets that can linger in
the air for hours -- in a subway or a first class airplane section.  MDRTB
breeds wherever there is poverty and particularly in prisons.  Russia and
the US via for the highest numbers of incarcerated and the prisons of each
are primary breeding grounds for MDRTB which speads out from them into the
general population.  Not all those who are infected with MDRTB manifest
symptoms -- but nevertheless such persons whose immunological systems contain
the disease can convey it to others, e.g. the maid in a prosperous
Westchester County home who came recently from Peru is an unsuspecting host
for the disease.

What is MDRTB?  It is "multiple drug resistant TB" -- a strain of TB that has
developed resistance to ordinary TB medications.  Can it be treated?  Yes,
currently some of the older and original anti-biotics which were abandoned
because of their negative side-effects still retain their effectiveness with
MDRTB.  How long does it take to treat this disease?  Eighteen months to two
years or more may be necessary to eradicate an infection.  Does this time
span present difficulties for those attempting to treat the disease?  Yes,
the costs are high for treatment and as many as a third of Americans are
either not covered by medical insurence (43 million) or are inadequately
covered (50 million) and those living in the most dire poverty -- driven,
say, into shelters for the homeless -- are both most likely to contract the
disease in these shelters and difficult to trace for treatment, as many are
mentally ill, are driven from the shelters daily, are cut off from welfare,
medicaid, or foodstamp support precisely at those times when they most need

Is MDRTB something that I should be worried about?  Yes, this is a disease
that I can contract anywhere, anytime.  It is a killer at worst and terribly
debilitating and time consuming to cure at best.  Can I expect that MDRTB
will lie in my future?  Yes, it might well infect your friends, family, and
perhaps you yourself if you are unfortunate enough to contract it and it
overwhelms your immunological system -- the young, old, or those undergoing
chemo-therapies are most vulnerable.

Source, NPR Boston, 2/25/99


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