Friday, October 06, 2006

South Africa death toll rises to 74 in deadly tuberculosis outbreak

Sarah McGregor:

The death toll from a highly drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis has risen to 74 in South Africa and a health official on Wednesday predicted more casualties from the deadly disease.

The death toll since January 2005 from extremely drug resistant tuberculosis or XDR-TB jumped from a previous tally of 62 as new cases were reported, health officials said.

Most of the XDR-TB cases have surfaced in the eastern KwaZulu- Natal province but some cases reported in Gauteng, encompassing the business centre of Johannesburg, have raised fears that XDR-TB could spread further.

Another concern has been the fast deterioration in patients, who usually die between 16 and 25 days of being diagnosed.

"What concerns us the most is the constant findings that we have of more cases," said Dr. Tony Moll, who first discovered the deadly strain at the King George Hospital in the coastal city of Durban and is working closely with health officials to try to contain the outbreak.

"They are coming in with a rapid progression toward death in spite of treatment," Moll told Reuters.

Hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal are isolating up to four new patients a month in a bid to save lives and stop the disease spreading. However, antibiotic treatments are largely proving ineffective, said Moll.

XDR-TB patients are resistant to most, if not all, of the lines of defensive treatment to fight tuberculosis -- a highly infectious lung disease spread through coughing and sneezing which can usually be cured through treatment.

An outbreak of the highly virulent TB strain in South Africa is particularly vexing given the country's high HIV/AIDS infection rate -- among the highest in the world.

TB poses a serious risk to HIV-positive people as it thrives in weakened immune systems. One in nine South Africans is infected with HIV.

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