MadSci Network: Microbiology

Re: How close is the scientific community from a new TB vaccine?

Area: Microbiology
Posted By: Eric Clambey, graduate student,
Date: Sat Jun 7 08:36:31 1997
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 859692208.Mi
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  
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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