Holding Our Breath: Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

A man with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) has refused treatment and is walking around Santa Barbara, California.  A warrant has been put out for his arrest, to treat and isolate him, both necessary to prevent the spread of this incredibly contagious disease.
While the prevalence of MDR TB is considered high in some countries in Eastern Europe[i], it remains rare in the United States. In 2012, the CDC reported only 72 cases in the country for the entire year[ii]
The currently available treatment for MDR-TB is expensive and involves a daily injection for six months.  Most people infected in developing countries do not have access to such a treatment and over one third of the individuals that contract MDR-TB will die from the disease[iii]. However, in a country like the United States, patients have considerably more access to the resources and necessary treatment. 
MDR-TB’s origins stem from improper antibiotic use in TB patients. When individuals stopped taking their antibiotics before their dosage ended, the tuberculosis virus was able to mutate and become resistant to the current existing treatments.  Today, the disease is not as severe as it was during the 1980s and 1990’s outbreak, when no treatment existed.  However, in 2006 there emerged yet another strain of TB that was completely resistant to all current drugs, called extensively drug resistant tuberculosis[iv].
Both drug-susceptible and drug-resistant forms of TB are highly contagious. The disease is contracted through inhaling particles in the air that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  An individual can develop either active or dormant TB infection.  The symptoms of active TB infection include fever and cough, while dormant form of TB does not present with symptoms. It is active TB infection that is highly contagious and can spread quickly.
It is important that the man with MDR-TB in Santa Barbara is located and isolated so as to prevent further cases and spread.

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