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Deadly TB strain
terrorizes South Africa

Deadly TB strain
terrorizes South Africa

A new, deadly strain of tuberculosis has killed 52 of 53 people infected in the last year in South Africa, the World Health Organization said Friday, calling for improved measures to treat and diagnose the virus.

"We are extremely worried about the issue of extreme drug resistance," said Paul Nunn, coordinator of the WHO's drug resistance department. "If countries don't have the diagnostic capacity to find these patients, they will die without proper treatment."

The WHO and its partners, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, planned a two-day meeting next week in South Africa to discuss the new TB strain in Africa and better ways to diagnose and treat it, Nunn said.

High mortality rates among TB patients in South Africa, however, prompted medical researchers to survey the cases and ultimately to find the new strain.

"Genetic processes are constantly throwing up mutations of tuberculosis viruses, so this may have arisen due to some particular quirk of the environment or the way they were treated or their genetic background," said Paul Fine, a professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Worldwide, about 2% of TB cases are classified as being extremely drug-resistant. Little information is available on extreme drug resistance in Africa, but it is believed to be increasing. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Africa also complicates the issue of treating extremely drug-resistant TB. (AP, Maria Cheng)

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