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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Fighting back against TB
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis can develop resistance to drugs
US scientists have designed a method to treat tuberculosis patients in a way that could minimise the ability of the disease to become drug-resistant.

They say the technique would be ideal for integrated industrialised regions of the world such as the European Union.

Tuberculosis is expected to kill 2m people this year, and over the next two decades the number of people carrying the disease is expected to rise to a billion.

The World Health Organisation has described TB as a potential world epidemic for the 21st century.

The disease has been kept at bay for decades by antibiotics.

However, the bacterium that causes the disease is becoming increasingly resistant to the available drugs.

While there are drugs to treat resistant strains of TB, they are prohibitively expensive, and take months, rather than weeks, to work.

Switching drugs

One way of treating TB that minimises its ability to become drug-resistant is known as "drug-cycling".

This involves giving patients just one anti-TB drug for a period of time, before switching to a new drug.

That way, the disease becomes resistant to just one drug at a time.

Now, researchers at the University of Tennessee have developed a computer programme to provide an optimum model of treating TB across national borders.

It shows that in a region like the EU, where people travel freely across borders, drug-cycling would work more effectively if it was applied to the whole of the EU, rather than on a nation-by-nation basis.

The researchers say their work suggests that fighting TB will be much harder in the regions of the world which are worst affected - such as sub-Saharan Africa - where cross-border governing bodies are lacking.

See also:

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18 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Dec 99 | Medical notes
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