How to Prevent Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

Drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is an extremely serious disease. The World Health Organization estimates that there were almost a half-million cases worldwide in 2004.

(tuberculosis) is a disease that primarily affects the lungs, and can be very serious without medical attention. The good news is it can be easily treated and cured.

The bad news is that the TB bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has evolved through time to become resistant to the drugs used to cure the "normal" TB. This means that the older generation of drugs will not work against the bacteria, and the treatment used is much less effective than the drugs used to treat the curable TB (such as Rifampin and Isoniazid). Survival rates have decreased a lot in recent years, dropping to 30% in some populations.

This may sound frightening, but just like TB, XDR-TB can be easily prevented by following these simple steps.


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    Take your treatments properly if you already have TB. This is absolutely essential. The main reason that TB turns drug-resistant is that it can slowly turn into a completely different species of bacteria, one not treatable by the current generation of antibiotics. So take your medicine in the prescribed dosage and on the specified schedule. Following your doctor's advice is crucial in preventing XDR-TB. It's no joke. This isn't like a vitamin; your life can depend on this.
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    Try your best to avoid anyone with XDR-TB. This may seem obvious, but TB can spread like wild-fire. Imagine a chain: if someone infects you, you can infect a loved one, that loved one infects his/her friend, that friend infects her family, the family's children infect their classmates, etc., in a potentially endless chain. TB is not something to be casual about. Some TB/XDR-TB patients are quarantined: they are allowed no (or minimal) contact with the outside world. This can be hard on everyone involved, but it's for the sake of the community.
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    Take a Tuberculin Skin Test. If you have been in close contact with someone who has (or recently had) TB or XDR-TB, take a skin test. It is always recommended that you (and your loved ones)consult with your doctor and take the skin test when you know you have been around a TB case. Here is the basic process in a tuberculin test:
      1. A specialist will give you a shot under your skin. The shot is a protein that the immune system reacts to.
      2. The skin area is watched for 48 to 72 hours.
    • If the area becomes a red, raised "bump," that's an indication of TB. You would then be given a chest X-ray and a sputum smear (a saliva test). Note that the skin bump is not a rash, acne, or any skin problem. It is simply a reaction of the immune system to the presence of TB.
    • If no red bump appears, that indicates the absence of TB. However, be ready to take a second skin test should any TB symptoms arise later.
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    Acknowledge how XDR-TB is spread. You can get TB by talking with another, laughing, coughing, sneezing, or basically inhaling another's breath. Once TB gets into the air, it dies in several hours, but people can inhale it in seconds.
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    Take note that TB is not spread by the following:
    • shaking someone's hand
    • sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats
    • sharing toothbrushes (not a great idea in any case but not likely to spread TB)
    • kissing, smoking, or sharing cigarettes
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    Prevent a recurrence. Those who have contracted TB in the past are more susceptible to a drug-resistant strain in the future. That makes it crucial to avoid others with TB. Be aware of any TB outbreaks in your area or in locations you're considering visiting. Be aware that prisons can sometimes be repositories of TB bacteria.
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    Know the symptoms of "normal" TB. These include generalized weakness, night sweats, and weight loss. In more advanced cases there may be chest pain, coughing up bloody mucus, a persistent dry cough, or shortness of breath. the symptoms of XDR-TB are very similar to those of TB. If you have these symptoms, ask your doctor about getting a skin test immediately.
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    Understand who is most susceptible to TB. People with HIV/AIDS are especially at risk because of their weakened immune system. Others at risk include:
    • people who live with individuals who have an active TB infection
    • poor or homeless people
    • people from countries that have a high incidence of TB
    • nursing-home residents and prison inmates
    • alcoholics and intravenous drug users
    • people with diabetes and certain cancers
    • health-care workers.

      Knowing the risks of TB will most certainly help prevent an XDR-TB infection! The above conditions are debilitating and will suppress your natural immune system, in effect predisposing you to XDR-TB.


  • A sanitary environment is extremely important in preventing the spread of TB/XDR-TB. If you know of local TB cases but cannot completely avoid public places (schools, for example) ask your doctor about the advisability of taking a skin test.


  • XDR-TB is far more serious than the average person might think. Maintain normal vigilance, but don't go insane about protecting yourself. You can still live life to the fullest while taking precautions against tuberculosis. It is a preventable and curable disease.

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Categories: Respiratory Health