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HomeResearchTuberculosisCommon drug slashes risk of MDR-TB – SA-led study

Common drug slashes risk of MDR-TB – SA-led study

A cheap, commonly available antibiotic pill halves the risk of people exposed to drug-resistant TB from contracting the particularly deadly strain of the disease, researchers announced last week.

Tuberculosis is the second deadliest infectious disease, killing only slightly fewer people than Covid-19 last year.

Every year an estimated 450 000 people contract multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), against which front-line drugs no longer work, according to an APF report in The Citizen.

Only two in five people with MDR-TB had access to treatment last year, partly because the disease disproportionately affects people in developing countries.

However, the commonly available antibiotic levofloxacin has been found to safely reduce the risk of children developing MDR-TB by 56%, according to the latest research, which was led by the Desmond Tutu TB Centre at Stellenbosch University and funded by global health organisation Unitaid and others.

The study was presented at the recent Union World Conference on Lung Health in Paris.

Lead researcher Anneke Hesseling told AFP it was the first randomised, placebo-controlled trial – considered the gold standard – to look at whether a drug could prevent MDR-TB in children.

The pill could offer critical protection to children living in homes with a parent who has the disease, said Hesseling, a researcher at Stellenbosch University.

The results of another study presented at the conference, which has also not yet been peer-reviewed, found that levofloxacin prevented the drug-resistant strain in 45% of adults in Vietnam.

The two research teams joined forces, and a statistical approach called Bayesian analysis suggested that overall, levofloxacin reduced the risk of MDR-TB by 60% for all ages.

The South Africa trial followed 453 children exposed to an adult in their home with MDR-TB. Only five contracted the disease.

Unitaid chief Philippe Duneton called the research “a major advance that has the potential to protect millions of children from a debilitating illness”.

Levofloxacin has been available for decades and has been widely used to treat, rather than prevent, TB.

The preventative treatment involved taking a pill once a day for six months. Since the trial, a better tasting, more dissolvable, “kid-friendly” version of levofloxacin has been developed, Hesseling said.

The research was announced as the WHO is expected to update its guidelines for TB in the coming months.

No abstracts available


The Citizen article – Common drug halves risk of drug-resistant tuberculosis: researchers (Open access)


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