Oswaldo Juarez found himself dealing with a particularly nasty cough that led to fevers and then eventually the blood spitting associated with tuberculosis. Juarez, a 19-year-old Peruvian visiting to study English was the first case to appear in the US of a contagious, aggressive, especially drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. The form of tuberculosis Juarez contracted is one of the rarest forms of the virus, so much so in fact that only a few other people in the world have experienced it. The virus is just one of many feared drug resistant strains that medical professionals have feared might come to affect many.
Tuberculosis, thought to have been thwarted forty years ago along with many other infectious and often deadly diseases has posed little trouble since the medical advance of antibiotics. Unfortunately many of these infectious diseases (AIDS, TB and malaria for example) are mutating very quickly and finding their way from one country to another through infected patients. The overuse of antibiotics is the clearest cause of these super strains and now we are coming to pay the cost.
The highly resistant form of TB first appeared in Beijing and has been reported to be appearing across the world. TB is the most deadly of infectious diseases, its spread through the air and can spread by the infected person laughing, coughing, sneezing or otherwise aspirating into the air where others breathe. It also lies dormant in 1 out of 3 people, meaning that it hides well in the general population until it becomes infectious. Normal cases of TB are cheaply treated through a ten dollar dose of antibiotics over a 6-9 month span until it clears. Even so it still kills 10 million a year. It’s when the line of treatment is stopped before the virus is gone that TB can become the stronger version of the strain. The Drug resistant form of the strain can take up to $100,000 a year to cure and there are as many as 500,000 cases each year.
“Drug resistance is starting to be a very big problem. In the past, people stopped worrying about TB, and it came roaring back. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are all connected by the air we breathe, and that is why this must be everyone’s problem.”
Juarez spent a year and a half living alone in a room while he was treated for the disease. There were days that the stress caused him to shut down and refused his meds until his family persuaded him to keep fighting. Eventually the fight turned out for the man and he was able to leave with a clean bill of health.