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Drug-resistant TB on the rise in U.S.

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  • Drug-resistant TB on the rise in U.S.

    Deadliest strain brought in by visitors from other countries, officials say

    <TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 border=0><TBODY><TR><TD style="PADDING-RIGHT: 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 15px; PADDING-BOTTOM: 0px; PADDING-TOP: 25px" vAlign=bottom width="1%"></TD><TD vAlign=bottom width="99%">
    Associated Press
    Updated: 1:40 p.m. ET Sept 22, 2006

    <SCRIPT language=javascript> function UpdateTimeStamp(pdt) { var n = document.getElementById("udtD"); if(pdt != '' && n && window.DateTime) { var dt = new DateTime(); pdt = dt.T2D(pdt); if(dt.GetTZ(pdt)) {n.innerHTML = dt.D2S(pdt,((''.toLowerCase()=='false')?false:true ));} } } UpdateTimeStamp('632945436339430000'); </SCRIPT>SAN FRANCISCO - The worst forms of the killer tuberculosis bug have been gaining ground in the United States, alarming public health officials over imported drug-resistant strains of a disease that is mostly under control in this country.
    Although the number of drug-resistant TB cases in the U.S. is small compared to developing nations, health officials here warn that visitors from other countries who are unaware of their infections are bringing over the deadliest mutations.
    Often those with drug-resistant strains stop taking their medicine when they feel better but aren?t cured. That?s what happened with Pich Chhieng, 61, a teacher who was infected in his native Cambodia and carried it with him to this country. He took medication for eight months but abruptly stopped because he ran out of money and was feeling much better.
    He didn?t know until he was hospitalized while visiting family in Los Angeles that by neglecting his treatment he had allowed the disease to mutate, and the drug-resistant bacteria had overwhelmed his lungs.
    ?I knew it wasn?t cured yet, but I thought it wasn?t that strong,? said Chhieng, who has been forced to stay in California until he is cured. ?I thought it was gone, and when it came back like that, I felt really bad. I wanted to kill myself.?
    The majority of drug-resistant infections in the U.S. are brought in by legal visitors, and health officials argue that simply tightening immigration controls won?t solve the problem.
    The only visitors to the U.S. who are screened for tuberculosis and other medical conditions are immigrant and refugee visa applicants, and TB experts say there is no easy way to screen the millions of tourists, workers and others who aren?t currently evaluated.
    Worldwide, TB kills 2 million people each year, mostly in Africa and southeast Asia.
    Of gravest concern is so-called ?extensively drug-resistant? TB, which recently killed more than 50 people in South Africa. It?s been found in limited numbers in the U.S. ? 74 reported cases since 1993.
    The strain is nearly impossible to cure because it?s immune to the best first- and second-line TB drugs. It is as easily transmitted through the air as garden variety TB.
    Health officials here also have been jolted by a spike in a milder but still-lethal form called ?multi-drug resistant? TB.
    That?s the strain afflicting Chhieng. It responds to more treatments but can cost up to $250,000 and take two years to cure.
    The number of cases of that variety are multiplying worldwide, jumping more than 50 percent from about 273,000 in 2000 to 425,000 in 2004, according to a study published in August in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.