In Early Results, Shorter Treatment for Tuberculosis Proves Effective


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Tuberculosis patients in Khayelitsha, South Africa, waited to see doctors. A study of patients in four countries, including South Africa, showed that a shorter treatment region could be effective against drug-resistant tuberculosis.

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Alexander Joe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Taking the right antibiotics for just nine months may be as effective against drug-resistant tuberculosis as taking them for two years, as is currently recommended, according to preliminary findings from an international study.

Results from the trial, which is overseen by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and UCL (formerly the University College London), were released at a conference in Mexico. The trial includes 424 patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis in Ethiopia, Mongolia, South Africa and Vietnam.

There were “favorable outcomes” in about 78 percent of those treated for nine months, the authors said — close to the 81 percent success rate observed in clinical trials using the two-year regimen. The short regimen also appeared to work in patients co-infected with H.I.V.

(Participants in trials invariably get far more personal attention and encouragement than average tuberculosis patients. In the real world, only about half of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis patients are cured.)

The study, paid for by the American and British governments, is an effort to see if a nine-month treatment that appeared to cure 88 percent of patients in a trial in Bangladesh a decade ago was a fluke or a repeatable success. That study had too many flaws for the World Health Organization to consider adopting the combination.

Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is a growing problem, affecting about 480,000 people, the W.H.O. estimates. Tuberculosis specialists are eager to find safe, effective shortcuts to cure patients.

Patients with even uncomplicated tuberculosis must take four drugs a day for six months. Treating drug-resistant tuberculosis can require in-hospital intravenous infusions and toxic second-line antibiotics that may cause nausea, deafness, liver damage and other side effects that lead patients to drop out of treatment.

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