India’s slow response to years of medical warnings now threatens to turn the country into an incubator for a mutant strain of tuberculosis that is proving resistant to all known treatments, raising alarms of a new global health hazard.
“We finally have ended up with a virtually untreatable strain” of tuberculosis in India, said Dr. Zarir Udwadia, one of the country’s leading TB authorities.
In December, Dr. Udwadia reported in a medical journal that he had four tuberculosis patients resistant to all treatment. By January, he had a dozen cases, then 15.
A government backlash began immediately. Anonymous health-ministry officials denied the reports through media outlets. They accused Dr. Udwadia and his colleagues of starting a panic. A Mumbai city health official seized patient samples for verification in government labs.
In April, the government quietly confirmed the strain, according to internal Indian health-ministry documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Spread of the strain could return tuberculosis to the fatal plague that killed two-thirds of people afflicted, before modern treatments were developed in the 1940s, said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB Department of the World Health Organization. The WHO is now assisting India to combat the strain.
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