Doctor confirms first fatal drug resistant TB infection

Tests have confirmed the first Australian transmission of a virulent form of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Tests have confirmed the first Australian transmission of a virulent form of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Two weeks ago a Torres Strait islander woman died in Cairns from a mutant strain that originates across the border from Papua New Guinea.

As Stefan Armbruster reports, there are fears it will spread further in Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea communities in Australia.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Hundreds of people cross Australia's border with Papua New Guinea in the Torres Strait in far north Queensland every day.

Papua New Guineans trade goods and Torres Strait islanders go to visit family, but in recent years they have been carrying an unwelcome passenger.

Dr Stephen Vincent is the director of thoracic medicine at the Cairns Base hospital.

"Essentially the horse has bolted, we tried very hard to stave off TB getting into Australia, especially multi-drug resistant TB. There are two factors that are out of our control, one is that PNG has essentially declared a state of emergency as far as TB goes, they have death every two hours and more than 50 per cent of their TB tested is multi-drug resistant TB. The other issue is that there is free movement called the treaty zone, between the outer islands of the Torres Strait and the Western Province of PNG, where there's free movement of Torres Strait islanders to PNG and PNG nationals to the Torres Strait and the first drug resistant case of TB we had on Saibai had extensive travel over to PNG."

Dr Vincent says tests confirmed the death two weeks ago of a Torres Strait islander woman in Cairns hospital from the multi-drug resistant type

"She was a close contact of a known TB case with the drug resistant strain on Saibai Island a couple of years ago, so in reality this is the first direct Australian citizen to Australian citizen transfer of this particular drug resistant strain of TB."

While in Papua New Guinea TB is at crisis levels, in Australia rates are low and transmission is rare.

Dr Tom Konstantinos is the former director of Queensland Health's TB Services.

"Look, MDR TB is tuberculosis which has become resistant to two of the essential TB drugs that we have".

The Queensland and federal governments have long expected multi-drug resistant TB would jump the border into Australia but argued over whose responsibility it was to deal with it.

Now multi-drug resistant TB is here but authorities say people have nothing to fear.

Queensland Health told SBS in a statement "measures currently in place to control and manage tuberculosis in the Torres Strait, and throughout Queensland, will continue to protect the population".

Two TB clusters in the Torres Strait are currently under investigation.

Doctor Konstantinos says Torres Strait and Papua New Guinean communities on mainland Australia are also at risk.

"People in households can be with an infectious case for many months which allows transmission to occur and then that transmission can extend further when people start to mingle in social groups."

He says it is important all Australians have access to the medical services needed to identify and then treat multi-drug resistant TB.

"The bad side to this story is that if there's been transmission in Australia, if what I hear is true, there's been two deaths, that means two people have been delayed significantly in their diagnosis, so we need to improve the preparedness."

TB is a slow epidemic, it can take up to 10 years to incubate, but it's a persistent one.

Dr Stephen Vincent say it could be years before its full extent is known.

"At the moment the risk is low but once you've got MDR in the country the risk is high, and it's high for the future, and we predicted this a couple of years ago."â




Source World News Australia

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