Doctors in Mumbai, India have reported several cases of "totally drug-resistant tuberculosis," an untreatable form of the killer disease.
This is not for the first time, the disease has been reported; since 2003 patients have been documented in Italy and Iran. Though the disease is largely limited to impoverished areas, and is not known to spread widely, the worrying part is that there could be many undocumented cases, say experts.
The Indian TB strain is not expected to spread elsewhere as it is mostly transmitted through close personal contact and is not quite as contagious as the flu. Indeed, cases of the airborne disease did not result from person-to-person infection but were mutations that occurred in poorly treated patients.
However, there is also a debate within the public health community as to whether the TB infections warranted to be labelled as drug resistant. The World Health Organization does not accept the term and calls it extensively drug-resistant TB, or XDR.
However, according to Dr Paul Nunn, a coordinator at the WHO's Stop TB Department in Geneva, there was ample proof of the existence of the virtually untreatable cases.
The Indian hospital, to which the initial cases were referred said none of the medicines worked, in a rather comprehensive assessment. According to some experts they did appear to be totally resistant to available drugs.