Despite huge advancements in sanitation and medicine, tuberculosis remains a scourge of humanity, especially in deprived parts of the world. Last year alone, almost 2 million people died from the illness and this number is set to rise as more deadly strains of the microbe emerge. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that by 2050, 2 billion people will be carriers – patients that have no symptoms of infection, but nonetheless carry the bug inside their lungs. Around 10% of carriers develop the disease.
This continued prevalence may come as a surprise to many, considering that TB can be cured and vaccines are available. However, the course of treatment is expensive and most effective when given over 6 months, meaning that in the cash-strapped developing world, doctors often prescribe shorter, cheaper but ultimately less effective drugs. Additionally, the BCG vaccine, which many people in the UK received, only protects against TB in childhood – not the much more common adult form.
However, we aren’t fighting a losing battle, thanks to the development of a brand new vaccine. First unveiled in March 2011, it has been highly effective against the adult form of the disease.
What makes this vaccine even more remarkable is that it can protect patients before AND after being infected with the microorganism. This is the first time scientists will be able to safely inoculate a patient after exposure to TB and why this vaccine, called H56, is causing a stir worldwide and heralds a major turning point in the battle against TB.
The hope is that H56 can be distributed worldwide and protect the billions of carriers from developing the illness. However, this is only the first step. The WHO’s ultimate goal is to continue improving vaccines so that by 2050, new cases will number fewer than 8,000.Image provided by Correctional Services Canada (CSC). www.csc-scc.gc.ca.
Posted on Monday, 4th July, 2011