TB Spreading without a Cure in South Africa

Recent reports have revealed that extreme anti-tuberculosis drug resistance (XDR-TB) is becoming a serious public health problem in South Africa. These TB strains are usually unresponsive to all current anti-TB drugs. That means that the disease can no longer be cured in the person with this strain.

Due to a lack of hospital beds for holding tuberculosis (TB) patients, people who have failed treatment due to drug resistant TB strains are being discharged back into the community while still infectious. As a result, these severely resistant strains can spread in the community.

Although most of these patients eventually die, they may live and remain contagious for up to 18 months or more, and there are instances in which the drug resistant strain has been passed to previously uninfected close family members.

The average traveller is at low risk of becoming infected with TB during his or her travels since becoming infected usually requires prolonged exposure to an environment where there is someone with active tuberculosis. However, travellers can reduce their risk of exposure to TB by avoiding situations where TB transmission is likely to occur, e.g., visiting family relatives in poorly ventilated spaces with close contact with persons who are coughing and who have active TB.