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June 04, 2007

Andrew Speaker does a favor for public health


[The above is a montage of some of the photos from John Barry's The Great Influenza, which I just finished reading. Here, you can sense the urgency of the message from public health officials in 1918.]

In the Op-Ed piece from the June 2 NY Times, "Have Germs, Will Travel," Dr Kawamura suggests that the recent odyssey of Andrew Speaker has actually served an important lesson about the "growing problem of super drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the ease with which this deadly airborne disease can travel around the world."

But the reality is that Federal health officials are cutting back TB treatment programs for city and states as much as 25% over the next five years.

He feels that now, the main focus should be on developing tests that can evaluate drug resistance overnight. Currently, the Mycobacterium tuberculosis organism must be collected from the patient and then cultured for days. Being able to identify the critical gene mutations which confer drug resistance would accelerate this process of determining drug resistance.

The problem of drug resistant M. tuberculosis is pervasive and worsening:

In 2004, almost half a million of the more than 8 million cases of tuberculosis worldwide were resistant to the most potent TB drugs. And drug resistance feeds further drug resistance.

If you want to look at this from the broader context of the global transmission of infectious disease, with the inevitability of another influenza pandemic, you realize that Speaker's ability to circumvent public health officials alerts to foreign governments and custom officials needs to be addressed.


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