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One-third of the world’s population is currently infected with the tuberculosis (TB) bacillus. Every year, nine million people develop active TB and 1.5 million die from it.

TB is spread through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. Not everyone infected with TB becomes ill, but 10 per cent
will develop active TB at some point in their lives. The disease most often affects the lungs. Symptoms include a persistent cough, fever, weight loss, chest pain and breathlessness in the lead-up to death. TB incidence is much higher and is a leading cause of death among people with HIV.

Diagnosis of TB depends on a phlegm sample, which can be difficult to obtain from children. There is a new molecular test that can give results after just two hours, and detect a certain level of drug resistance, but it is costly, depends on a reliable power supply, and still requires a phlegm sample.

A course of treatment for uncomplicated TB takes a minimum of six months. When patients are resistant to the two most powerful first-line antibiotics, they are considered to have multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). MDR-TB is not impossible to treat, but the drug regime is arduous, taking up to two years and causing many side effects. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is identified when resistance to second-line drugs develops on top of MDR-TB. The treatment options for XDR-TB are limited.

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