Reports are coming out in Minnesota about a disturbing outbreak of a severe multi-drug resistant version of tuberculosis. Six people have died and 17 others have been recently diagnosed with this disease, and it is being dubbed as the largest outbreak in America. It seems to be a senior center that is the area where the disease started.
A Hmong community located in Ramsey County, Minnesota is the highest affected in numbers and 14 of their elderly are among those affected. Minnesota usually has 168 cases per year, but this year they are already at 160 confirmed cases. This is highly concerning among elderly and minority groups such as the Hmong because their immune systems are much weaker than the general population, but the CDC is warning everyone to do their best to stay clear of anyone who has the symptoms of TB in the affected areas.
An ancient virus infecting residents across Australia’s Northern Territory is leaving death and despair in its path, and doctors are now calling for greater efforts to stop the spread of infections.
The rates of human T-cell leukemia virus type 1, or HTLV-1, infection are exceeding 40% among adults in remote regions of central Australia, with indigenous communities being the hardest hit, especially in the town of Alice Springs.
Many doctors — including the man who discovered the virus nearly four decades ago — are raising the alarm about how little has been done to prevent, test for and treat HTLV-1, which can cause leukemia and lymphoma.
“The prevalence is off the charts” in Australia, said Dr. Robert Gallo, co-founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, whose laboratory was the first to detect HTLV-1 in 1979 and publish the finding in 1980.
Yet “nobody that I know of in the world has done anything about trying to treat this disease before,” said Gallo, who is also co-founder and scientific director of the Global Virus Network and chairs the network’s HTLV-1 Task Force.
“There’s little to almost no vaccine efforts, outside of some Japanese research,” he said. “So prevention by vaccine is wide open for research.”
HTLV-1 — an ancient virus whose DNA can be found in 1,500-year-old Andean mummies — can spread from mother to child, particularly through breastfeeding; between sexual partners, through unprotected sex; and by blood contact, such as through transfusions. Because it can be transmitted through sex, it’s considered a sexually transmitted infection, or STI.
The virus is associated with myriad serious health problems, such as diseases of the nervous system and a lung-damaging condition called bronchiectasis, and it weakens the immune system. HTLV-1 is sometimes called the cousin of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV.
The focus has come about now because of the high prevalence among indigenous Australians, “which is probably the highest-ever reported prevalence in any population,” said Dr. Graham Taylor, a clinician and professor at Imperial College London who runs the United Kingdom’s HTLV clinical service based at St. Mary’s Hospital.
“But if we look globally, we know about HTLV-1 in a number of countries,” he added.
HTLV-1 is present throughout the world, but there are certain areas where it is highly endemic, such as the rare isolated cluster in central Australia.