Tuberculosis is one of the most prevalent diseases on the planet. It is estimated that up to a third of all humans are infected with the bacteria, causing one person to die from the disease every 20 seconds. There are drugs to treat TB, but these are losing efficacy as new multidrug-resistant strains of TB emerge, creating a very serious public health problem.
Now, researchers report that they have been able to successfully treat people infected with a rare but serious type of the disease known as extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB). The current treatment for XDR TB can take up to two and half years and require the use of second-line anti-TB drugs, which are not only more expensive than the usual drugs, but also carry with them a whole raft of other side-effects.
But by using a combination therapy of three antibiotics, scientists have reported at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, currently taking place in Seattle, that they have been able to clear people of XDR TB in just six months. The treatment, known as Nix-TB, combines bedaquiline, pretomanid, and linezolid, and while the first two were developed specifically to tackle TB, the third is usually used for skin infections and pneumonia, report Science.
The trial was done on a small sample of people who had all been diagnosed with XDR TB, half of whom also had HIV. After six months of therapy, the bacteria could not be detected in their system. Amazingly, 20 of the patients were able to stop taking the drugs after this period, and only one of these relapsed with the disease. This is an incredible result for a strain that was previously extremely difficult to treat. However, more work will be required to see if the results hold up.
Yet these are not the only positive results coming out of the conference concerning the treatment of drug-resistant TB. New Scientist reported on another two new treatments that have shown strong indications that they may be able to cure all forms of tuberculosis. The first, known as BPaMZ, was found to cut the time usually needed to cure standard TB from six months to four, while the second, called BPaL, has been found to cure XDR TB.
This would mean that the first treatment could be used to clear 99 percent of patients who are infected with ordinary TB, while the second could be reserved for the final 1 percent who have the more drug-resistant variety.
While more trials are needed, early results lend hope that new treatments are being developed that will stop the dangerous drug-resistant TB strains in their tracks.