Extraordinary Focus on a Minor Enemy
First case of highly drug-resistant TB found in US By MARGIE MASON AND MARTHA MENDOZA The Associated Press Sunday, December 27, 2009; 8:14 AM LANTANA, Fla. -- It started with a cough, an autumn hack that refused to go away. Then came the fevers. They bathed and chilled the skinny frame of Oswaldo Juarez, a 19-year-old Peruvian visiting to study English. His lungs clattered, his chest tightened and he ached with every gasp. During a wheezing fit at 4 a.m., Juarez felt a warm knot rise from his throat. He ran to the bathroom sink and spewed a mouthful of blood. I'm dying, he told himself, "because when you cough blood, it's something really bad."
It was really bad, and not just for him.
Doctors say Juarez's incessant hack was a sign of what they have both dreaded and expected for years - this country's first case of a contagious, aggressive, especially drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. . . .
Today, all the leading killer infectious diseases on the planet - TB, malaria and HIV among them - are mutating at an alarming rate, hitchhiking their way in and out of countries. The reason: Overuse and misuse of the very drugs that were supposed to save us. Just as the drugs were a manmade solution to dangerous illness, the problem with them is also manmade. It is fueled worldwide by everything from counterfeit drugmakers to the unintended consequences of giving drugs to the poor without properly monitoring their treatment.
Here's what the AP found: - In Cambodia, scientists have confirmed the emergence of a new drug-resistant form of malaria, threatening the only treatment left to fight a disease that already kills 1 million people a year. - In Africa, new and harder to treat strains of HIV are being detected in about 5 percent of new patients. HIV drug resistance rates have shot up to as high as 30 percent worldwide. - In the U.S., drug-resistant infections killed more than 65,000 people last year - more than prostate and breast cancer combined. More than 19,000 people died from a staph infection alone that has been eliminated in Norway, where antibiotics are stringently limited.
Juarez was sent to A.G. Holley State Hospital, a 60-year-old massive building of brown concrete surrounded by a chain-link fence, just south of West Palm Beach, the nation's last-standing TB sanitarium, a quarantine hospital that is now managing new and virulent forms of the disease. Holley is a wreck of a building and the only hospital currently standing between Americans and an explosion of the modern plague that is drug-resistant disease.
Worldwide, malaria, HIV and staph infections are equally out of control and exploding in terms of drug resistance, yet we have as a nation committed hardly anything to drug-resistant disease, while lavishing an annual $18 billion on what we euphemistically call a Drug War. We spend a half-trillion dollars a year on wars to avenge some three thousand 9-11 victims and fail the 65,000 dying annually of formerly preventable disease.
It's a chess game, where we focus so completely on a singular goal that we fail to see our opponent preparing . . . Checkmate!