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Untreatable TB Entering U.S.
Resistant TB from Mexico feared Strain entering U.S. can't be treated with drugs

A drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis from Mexico is worrying U.S. health officials.

Many Mexicans are using potent, readily available drugs such as telithromycin to treat TB, but they are not meant for the disease. That fact, along with short-term and inconsistent medicine use creates a drug-resistant variety of the life-threatening illness that could spread, the Brownsville Herald reported.

"In my opinion, the growth of this (drug resistance) could be considered an epidemic situation," said Eduardo Olivarez, chief administrative officer for the Hidalgo County, Texas, Health Department.

Tuberculosis, a potentially fatal bacterial disease usually affecting the lungs, poses a great public health risk because it is spread through coughing or sneezing.

Incidents of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR TB, still comprise a small portion of cases in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas near the Mexican border, but officials have noted an increase.

According to the Herald, in 2005, the county health department handled 101 new cases of TB, a 25-percent increase from 2004.

With MDR-TB, a patient's immune system does not respond to basic antibiotics rifampin and isoniazid.

The costs to the state are staggering. While a standard TB patient costs some $2,800 for about six to nine months of treatment, an MDR-TB treatment runs about $250,000 for two years, said Charles Wallace, manager of the state's infectious disease, intervention and control branch.

With a budget of about $800,000 to treat TB, the increase in cases will cripple the county's ability to handle the disease, according to Olivarez.

One family in the Rio Grande Valley with nine members afflicted with MDR-TB recently cost the state $4 million over a three-year period, including drugs and multiple hospitalizations.

Cynthia Tafolla, director of Groups without Borders, a binational effort between Mexico and the United States to minimize TB cases and treat them in Mexico, told the Herald with "migration back and forth from Mexico to the United States, we definitely have to screen anyone who may come in contact with a case or someone who is a suspect."

Tafolla says that in the last few years, about 65 percent to 75 percent of the approximately 40 clients treated annually are multi-drug resistant.

Dr. Dave Griffith, the chief of TB services and medical director at the Center for Infectious Diseases in San Antonio, told the Brownsville paper new MDR-TB cases in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America have prompted drug companies to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into developing new drugs.

"But how close they are to general use is still problematic," he said.