|MadSci Network: Microbiology|
Tuberculosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although found in America, its worldwide prevalence numbers in the millions of people and is a serious concern for public health officials everywhere. Further background on tuberculosis can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. TB was untreatable until the middle of this century, when antibiotics were discovered that could effectively treat tuberculosis infection. This lead to what some people consider a lack of attention toward tuberculosis treatment and monitoring. Unfortunately, multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis have now emerged that are resistant to current therapies. Tuberculosis is once again a concern in the United States (although Third World countries never thought they had TB beat). It turns out that the chemical therapy used against tuberculosis was quite effective (for more in-depth information see the National Tuberculosis Center). With the emergence of untreatable TB, however, there is certainly strong interest in developing a new TB vaccine. After talking with a couple members of the faculty here at Washington University, however, it sounds unlikely that there will be a new TB vaccine in the immediate future. An excellent resource that discusses current attempts at making TB vaccines can be found at http://www.brown.edu/Courses/Bio_160/. The work invested at this site under the heading of Vaccine Development for Tuberculosis far outweighs my knowledge of current vaccine attempts. There is also a pre-existing vaccine for TB known as the BCG vaccine. The effectiveness of this vaccine is debatable. It appears that the range of efficacy ranges anywhere from 0% to 80%, and average estimates of its efficacy put it at about 50% effective in reducing the risk of TB. Despite the unclear effects of this vaccine, many countries do use this vaccine (e.g. European countries such as France as well as Third World Countries) because any positive effect given by the vaccine would be helpful in decreasing the large number of people infected with tuberculosis. Further information on the BCG vaccine can be found at the Brown University web-site referenced previously, under the Vaccine strategies subset of Tuberculosis. Hope this helps.
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