Posted on March 25, 2008

‘Untreatable TB’ Arrives in Britain

Doctors have diagnosed what is believed to be the first ever case in Britain of a virtually untreatable strain of tuberculosis.

A man, believed to be a Somali in his 30s, is in isolation at a hospital in Scotland and being treated with a range of antibiotics to control the disease.

But he has been diagnosed with the XDR-TB strain, which kills half of those infected and is extremely resistant to drugs used to fight more common forms of the infection.

Domestic cases of tuberculosis, an airborne disease which is spread though close contact with other people, are increasing but it is thought this is the first time the most deadly type has been found in this country.

It is understood the patient, thought to be an asylum seeker, was screened for infectious diseases on his arrival into Britain last year.

X-rays revealed TB scarring on his lungs, but the disease was not thought to be active so he was allowed to travel to Scotland.

He was admitted to Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow with the disease in January and tests have now revealed he is suffering from the XDR-TB strain.

Health officials are now trying to contact his close friends and family to prevent any further outbreaks.

A spokesman for Gartnavel General Hospital said last night: “We can confirm a case of drug-resistant tuberculosis is being treated at the hospital.

“We are in touch with all close contacts of the patient, and where appropriate they will be screened.

“The strain is not any more infectious than normal TB. The main concern is that it is resistant to antibiotics, which makes it much harder to treat.”

The first case of XDR-TB was reported in March 2006, after researchers discovered an emerging global threat of highly resistant TB strains. Six months later 53 “virtually untreatable” XDR-TB cases were found in an area of South Africa with a high prevalence of HIV.

Samples were taken for drug resistance tests but all but one of the patients died an average of 25 days later.

TB drug resistance has been increasing across the world, including Britain, and the World Health Organisation warns more needs to be done to combat the disease.

Professor Peter Davis, secretary of TB Alert in the UK, said: “We are aware that it is quite prevalent in other parts of the world. Because our country is no longer separated from disease by the channel, we have got to be aware of it.”