Alarm at huge spike in serious TB cases

Estelle Ellis

RESEARCHERS have sounded alarm bells over a huge increase in the incidence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in the Eastern Cape.

With International Tuberculosis Month starting today, they say the rate of patients being infected has doubled and more than half of those are dying within the first year of treatment.

The Eastern Cape director of nursing services, Dina Morapedi, said yesterday the Jose Pearson tuberculosis hospital was still functioning despite being overcrowded, with close to 90 patients crammed in a ward meant for 42. Patients with MDR-TB are kept at the hospital to prevent the spread of the disease.

In a damning report by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention published this week, researchers said they still did not know why there had been a sudden spike in MDR-TB infections.

Researchers from the Human Sciences Research Council and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality participated in the research. The researchers said the increase in the occurrence of MDR-TB in South Africa placed the country among the worst affected in the world.

The Eastern Cape had one of the highest incidences of MDR-TB, but also showed the largest increase in patients with MDR-TB – with the rate of infection more than doubling since 2006.

“Treatment outcomes are dismal,” researchers said, referring to the Eastern Cape. A total 58% of patients died within one year, they said, and only 8.4% of patients showed a positive response to treatment.

“This raises a concern that there are patients with an untreatable form of TB,” they said.

“The situation is similar to the Tugela Ferry TB outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal which highlighted the need for improved basic control measures, including rapid diagnostics and infection control methods.”

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