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Officials praise new test for drug-resistant TB
Multiple-drug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, is a growing public health problem in the world. Five percent of new TB cases are resistant to first-line drugs. That is 450,000 of the nine million new TB cases that are detected each year, the WHO says.
In the United States, the prevalence of drug-resistant tuberculosis among foreign-born TB patients has been about 1.5 percent, roughly three times the percentage among American-born patients with TB.
"The new test is revolutionary," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, WHO's director of tuberculosis control, because "it changes completely the way we will be dealing with MDR-TB."
The difficulty in detecting cases rapidly and accurately is a major obstacle in tuberculosis control. In most developing countries, cases cannot be detected easily or at all, leading to lags in starting proper treatment that can lead to a patient's death and the further spread of resistant strains.
The new test was described for reporters by telephone on Monday by officials from the WHO and three other international health groups, the Stop TB Partnership, Unitaid and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND.
The TB test, called a line probe assay, costs less than $8 and detects mutations in bacterial DNA linked to drug resistance.
It is based on the same laboratory methods that scientists have used to determine parentage and detect certain genetic diseases, said Dr. Richard O'Brien, an official of FIND.
The test could have been developed five years ago if there had been greater funds and demand. Dr. Raviglione of the WHO said it took widespread publicity about an outbreak in South Africa of XDR-TB, a shorthand for extensively-drug-resistant TB, to demonstrate the urgency and duty to bring sophisticated technology to poor countries.
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