American Lung Association: "Tuberculosis Still Lurking and Evolving"

Public health group urges vigilance, funding of TB control

Washington, D.C. (March 21, 2013)

Despite popular misconceptions that tuberculosis (TB) is a disease of the past, it continues to pose a significant threat to public health. In observance of World TB Day on March 24, the American Lung Association is calling attention to this worldwide killer, with an emphasis on the increase of drug-resistant forms of TB, and is stressing the importance of adequate public health funding to address this serious health risk.

"TB is still lurking, and it continues to evolve," said Ross P. Lanzafame, Esq., chair, National Board of Directors, American Lung Association. "Despite the sequestration budget cuts, it remains imperative for the U.S. government to maintain funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to control this dreaded disease."

TB is a contagious airborne infection caused by an organism called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is spread through the air from one person to another. Worldwide, one-third of the total population is currently infected with TB, although not all who are infected become ill. Each year, close to 9 million people worldwide become ill with TB, and nearly 1.5 million people die. TB is predicted to kill millions more in the next decade.

While current TB rates in the United States are the lowest recorded since national reporting began in 1953, the decline has slowed in recent years and more than 10,500 Americans still get the disease each year. The slowing decline of TB rates in the United States along with the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease highlight the need to maintain focus on eradicating TB through surveillance, treatment and prevention.

"Americans let their guard down thinking TB was eradicated in the 1980's, and it came back to haunt us in the 90's when the number of TB cases spiked significantly, in part due to co-infection with HIV," said Lanzafame. "We must be vigilant about TB control to ensure we are prepared as drug-resistant forms of TB continue to be diagnosed in the United States. Recently, a case of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) was identified in a patient in Texas. Now is not the time to let our guard down."

"In addition, the Congress needs to continue to fund innovative research at the National Institutes of Health for new and improved TB treatments that make treatment more accessible to all as well as target drug-resistant strains of this deadly disease," added Lanzafame.

The American Lung Association began as an organization committed to eradicating TB, and it continues to be at the forefront by supporting much needed research examining the links between the disease and other lung diseases and risk factors. The following are examples of current TB research projects supported by the organization:

Vikram Saini, Ph.D.
University of Alabama, Birmingham, Ala.
Link Between Cigarette Smoke and Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

There is evidence that tobacco smoking is associated with an increased risk of TB infection, disease, reactivation and death. Many countries with a high prevalence of TB also have a high prevalence of smoking. Dr. Saini will examine whether exposure of TB-causing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) cells to cigarette smoke leads to the development of MDR TB. This research will result in a better understanding of the link between tobacco smoke and TB drug resistance

Jessica Seeliger
State University of New York, Stony Brook, N.Y.
Targeting Latent and Multi-Drug Resistant TB

Decreased immune responses due to smoking or cancer treatment can trigger latent TB to reactivate and cause infectious disease. Unfortunately, some TB disease can become resistant to first-line medications and therefore, new therapies are needed to treat multi- and extremely drug-resistant TB strains. Dr. Seeliger will use a novel chemical method to evaluate a family of Mtb enzymes that may be promising for developing next-generation therapies against latent infections and multi-drug resistant TB.

J. Lucian Davis, M.D., MAS
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif.
New DNA Test May Cut Down on Unneeded TB Treatment

Due to the inadequacies of existing tests for TB, public health interventions such as quarantining patients in the hospital, and interviewing close family, friends and coworkers for evidence of TB usually begin prior to receiving an actual TB diagnosis. Dr. Davis will determine if a new automated DNA fingerprinting test for TB, GeneXpert provides a rapid, accurate alternative to the existing diagnostic approaches, cutting down on unnecessary treatment and public health interventions among patients who are suspected of having TB.

To learn more about research supported by the American Lung Association, view our "Research Awards Nationwide" report at www.lung.org/research. To learn more about tuberculosis, visit www.lung.org/lung-disease/tuberculosis/.

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About the American Lung Association
Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is “Fighting for Air” through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit www.lung.org.