Shorter tuberculosis therapies could lead to substantial reductions in cases and deaths

Boston, MA -- New, shorter therapies to treat tuberculosis (TB), which kills millions worldwide each year, may make TB control efforts substantially more effective by simplifying treatment, improving patient outcomes and reducing transmission of new infections. Looking at the potential benefits if a two-month regimen becomes available during the next decade, a new study led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reports that as many as 11 million cases and 5 million deaths could be averted through 2030 in the South-East Asia region alone, compared to a situation in which treatment continues at current levels with existing drug regimens. The research appears in the August 2006 online edition of Public Library of Science Medicine (www.plos.org).

Every year, some eight or nine million people develop active TB and some two million people die from the disease. The cornerstone of global control efforts is the World Health Organization's DOTS strategy, which relies on four or more drugs administered under the observation of health care workers for at least six months. No new first-line TB drugs have been developed in over 30 years, but recently an array of promising new drug candidates have been identified, which raises hopes that novel, shorter regimens may enter the TB treatment arsenal in the coming years.

Exploring a number of different scenarios, the researchers developed a mathematical model of TB to study what impact shortening treatment durations might have on the course of the epidemic. The results showed that shorter regimens could produce dramatic benefits at the population level by reducing patients' opportunities to default from treatment and therefore improving their own outcomes as well as curtailing transmission to others. Other possible indirect benefits were explored in alternative scenarios in which new regimens are accompanied by wider case detection, which might arise if sho

Contact: Todd Datz
Harvard School of Public Health

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