Tuberculosis

Courtesy of University of Washington / Nature Chemistry

Even the tiniest misprint in a person’s genetic code can cause big health problems, but they can be hard to find. Now members of a team at University of Washington say they’ve designed a better way to track down those mutations.

If you think of DNA as a twisted ladder, each rung is made of two little structures called bases, stuck together. If even one of the billions of these rungs gets copied wrong it can have serious consequences, such as which kind of tuberculosis you get.

Tuberculosis specialists in India have diagnosed infections in a dozen patients in Mumbai that are unfazed by the three first-choice TB drugs and all nine second-line drugs.

The doctors are calling them "totally drug-resistant TB," and the infections are essentially incurable with all available medicines.

Worldwide tuberculosis cases are declining annually for the first time, according to a report just out from the World Health Organization. Deaths from the disease have also sunk to the lowest level in a decade.

John Froschauer / AP

My friends always tend to disbelieve me (in general, but also specifically) when I tell them that one out of every three people on the planet has been infected with tuberculosis.

So where are all these consumptive folks, they might say? — This is assuming they know that TB used to be called consumption because of the way it “consumed” and withered the body as the infection progressed.

They’re everywhere, I’d reply, including right here in wealthy and smug Seattle.

Seattle, in fact, has one of the worst problems with TB in the nation. But it’s always here, managed by the public health folks, so it’s hardly news.

The news is that it’s World TB Day.

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