Drug-resistant ‘white plague’ lurks among rich and poor
LONDON (Reuters)- On New Year’s Eve 2004, after months of losing weight and suffering fevers, night sweats and shortness of breath, student Anna Watterson was taken into hospital coughing up blood.
It was strange to be diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB)- an ancient disease associated with poverty – especially since Watterson was a well-off trainee lawyer living in the affluent British capital of London. Yet it was also a relief, she says, finally to know what had been making her ill for so long.
But when Watterson’s infection refused to yield to the three-pronged antibiotic attack doctors prescribed to fight it, her relief turned to dread.
After six weeks of taking pills that had no effect, Watterson was told she had multi-drug resistant TB, or MDR-TB, and faced months in an isolation ward on a regimen of injected drugs that left her nauseous, bruised and unable to go out in the sun.
“My friends were really shocked,” Watterson said. “Most of them had only heard of TB from reading Victorian novels.”
Tuberculosis is often seen in the wealthy West as a disease of bygone eras – evoking impoverished 18th or 19th century women and children dying slowly of a disease then commonly known as “consumption” or the “white plague”.
But rapidly rising rates of drug-resistant TB in some of the wealthiest cities in the world, as well as across Africa and Asia, are again making history.
London has been dubbed the “tuberculosis capital of Europe”, and a startling recent study documenting new cases of so-called “totally drug resistant” TB in India suggests the modern-day tale of this disease could get a lot worse.