Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection caused by the organism, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and it’s deadly. Not only that, due to the problems with determining the appropriate antibiotic, multiresistant tuberculosis has the potential to become a worldwide epidemic, negating all medical achievements of the last several decades. The good news: a new approach to finding antibiotic-resistant TB could dramatically improve treatment options.
In humans, the bacillus (rod-shaped bacterium) thrives in environments where the oxygen tension is relatively high, such as the rounded upper part of the lungs, the renal parenchyma, and the growing ends of bones. Infection may lead to lung necrosis and cavitation. An person with untreated pulmonary tuberculosis is infectious, and may transmit the organism to those with whom he is in close contact.
Tuberculosis: Scourge of the 19th and 20th Century
A century ago, tuberculosis was more terrifying than cancer is today. Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a billion people died from TB – more than the world population in 1800. During the 1950s, the disease was interdicted using newly developed antibiotics. European sanatoria were closed and converted into hotels. Today the industrialized world does not comprehend the gruesome nature of consumptive disease. The treatment was so successful that the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1960 decided to eradicate tuberculosis once and for all. It almost worked.
Persistent Resistant Tuberculosis
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is persistent, demanding treatment with several antibiotics simultaneously for months, which is impossible in developing countries. Erratic or halted treatments led to growing numbers of bacilli which were resistant to several antibiotics. In the early 1980s, the death toll stagnated, then rose inexorably. The arrival of AIDS during the 1980s caused grave concern, because infection with AIDS made the patient more susceptible to TB.