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Multi-Drug Resistant TB Infects 32,000 Children Every Year

Update Date: Mar 24, 2014 10:07 AM EDT

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) a global health risk. The agency recently reported that poor diagnosis has lead to inappropriate medical treatments for the infection, which encouraged the development of TB strains that are resistant to drugs. MDR-TB is dangerous because common treatment options are ineffective. According to a new study conducted in the United States, the superbug version of TB infects around 32,000 children every year throughout the world.

This study, headed by Helen Jenkins of Brigham and Women's Hospital's Division of Global Health Equity, is the first one of its kind to quantify the number of infections caused by MDR-TB in children. The study also calculated the number of TB infections overall and found that around one million children become infected with TB. Only around one-third of these cases get diagnosed.

"Despite children comprising approximately one quarter of the world's population, there have been no previous estimates of how many suffer from MDR-TB disease," said study co-author, Dr. Ted Cohen, also from the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

For this study, the researchers reviewed publicly available databases to devise a way to properly count the number of TB cases in children. The team was able to correct the issue of TB being underreported in children. Oftentimes, studies do not focus on TB infections in young children because children are less likely than adults to spread the disease. TB is also relatively hard to diagnose in children due to different symptoms.

"A huge proportion [of children] are suffering and dying from TB unnecessarily," Jenkins the lead statistician on the study said according to FOX News. "In kids, you are much more likely to have TB disease in other parts of the body, not necessarily in the lungs."

The researchers concluded that keeping track of children TB cases is extremely important because first, children infected with MDR-TB tend to respond well to treatment and second, TB tends to develop faster in young children. If researchers identify a case of TB in an adolescent, it could indicate TB within a community.

The study was published in The Lancet. The report was a part of a special issue for World TB Day, which takes place today, March 24.

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