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Disease Carriers

Bacteria: Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is annually responsible for nearly two million deaths worldwide. A third of the world's population is currently infected with the TB bacillus, and more than eight million new cases are diagnosed each year.

TB has reemerged as a serious public health threat worldwide because of a significant increase in multiple-drug-resistant TB and synergism between Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and M. tuberculosis infection. TB is transmitted from person to person by the aerosol route, and treatment requires a six to 12 month regimen with at least two antibiotics. Failure to complete the full course of drug therapy can lead to M. tuberculosis organisms that are resistant to one or more anti-tuberculosis drugs, severely limiting effective treatment options.

For unknown reasons, persons co-infected with HIV are particularly susceptible to TB. HIV-positive individuals are more likely to acquire primary TB disease upon initial infection, reactivate a latent TB infection, and experience an accelerated course of fatal disease when infected with a multi-drug resistant strain. Resolution of the current TB epidemic will require prevention of new TB infection as well as improved methods for treating existing disease. A better understanding of how tubercle bacilli establish infection at the cellular and molecular levels should facilitate the design of both new vaccines and treatment approaches.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Thin section transmission electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Learn more about tuberculosis.