Fears new tuberculosis strains may force return of amputations
WITH mutated forms of tuberculosis virtually resistant to antibiotics, surgeons will be forced to return to the extensive amputations of the first half of the 20th century to combat the disease, Cairns infectious disease physician John McBride says.The James Cook University Professor of Medicine will discuss the issue at a tropical medicine conference in Cairns today and tomorrow, which is expected to attract up to 60 surgeons from across Australia and around the world.
Doctors at Cairns Base Hospital are already treating one Papua New Guinean patient who has a new, highly lethal, mutated variant of tuberculosis known as XDR-TB (extensively drug resistant TB).
Experts warn the PNG girl is one of six confirmed cases and the first in a predicted wave of medical refugees fleeing an outbreak of the untreatable form of the deadly illness.
Prof McBride said the mutated variant of TB is virtually untreatable with antibiotics.
"We've had a 50 to 60-year dream run (with antibiotic treatment), but the bugs are starting to outsmart us," he said.
"We're now starting to get to the stage where the bugs are resistant to everything we test, which is scary."
Authorities are trying to contain XDR-TB to the disease-ridden, shanty towns of PNG's Daru Island, near the mouth of the Fly River, off the tip of Cape York. But TB medical experts warn the outbreak of a highly contagious mutated form of TB is likely to spread into the Australian population within five years.
Prof McBride said surgeons would have to play a larger role in combating the disease.
"Surgeons are now going to have to start thinking about looking at the surgery that was done in the pre-antibiotic era to get rid of the bacteria," he said.
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