See Inside March 2009

New Tactics in the Fight against Tuberculosis

The pandemic is growing in many places, and strains resistant to all existing drugs are emerging. To fight back, biologists are applying a host of cutting-edge drug development strategies

James Nachtwey VII

Bubonic plague, smallpox, polio, HIV—the timeline of history is punctuated with diseases that have shaped the social atmospheres of the eras, defined the scope of science and medicine, and stolen many great minds before their time. But there is one disease that seems to have stalked humanity far longer than any other: tuberculosis. Fossil evidence indicates that TB has haunted humans for more than half a million years. No one is exempt. It affects rich and poor, young and old, risk takers and the abstinent. Simply by coughing, spitting or even talking, an infected individual can spread the bacterium that causes the disease.

Today TB ranks second only to HIV among infectious killers worldwide, claiming nearly two million lives annually, even though existing drugs can actually cure most cases of the disease. The problem is that many people lack access to the medicines, and those who can obtain the drugs often fail to complete the lengthy treatment regimen.

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