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Reuters New Media
Deadly TB detected near South Africa-Botswana border

October 6, 2006
JOHANNESBURG - South African health officials reported 10 new cases of a highly drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis on Friday in a province neighbouring Botswana where it had not been detected before.

Laboratory tests confirmed four people have died of so-called XDR-TB -- two since July -- in the North West province, which borders Botswana.

Six people were being treated, an official said. One of the six patients was a visitor from neighbouring Lesotho, a tiny nation surrounded by South Africa, which raised concerns the highly contagious disease could cross national boundaries.

"We believe there may be reason for concern but no reason for alarm. We are making an appeal to our community to strengthen their efforts to find cases of tuberculosis and support those who are ill," Lesiba Molala, a spokesman for the North West health department, told Reuters.

"There is a free movement of people. So it is hard to say how much more work needs to be done (to contain the disease)."

The latest figures bring the total XDR-TB death toll in South Africa to 78 since January 2005. The other known deaths were in the eastern KwaZulu Natal province where the super bug was first discovered.

TB is the leading cause of death in AIDS patients as it thrives in weakened immune systems.

Most of those who have already died were HIV-positive and officials have expressed concern that with one in nine South Africans infected with the virus that causes AIDS, many people may be vulnerable to the more virulent form of TB.

The latest cases of XDR-TB were detected after North West health authorities scoured hospital records of TB patients dating back to 2000, following attention drawn to the disease by the World Health Organization.

The WHO was among the international health bodies represented at an emergency meeting in Johannesburg last month to determine how to prevent the disease from spreading across the southern African nations.

More pressure mounted on South Africa to stamp out the deadly virus in September after the discovery of six cases of XDR-TB in the Gauteng province, the country's economic hub encompassing Johannesburg and Pretoria.

TB, an airborne bacillus that can be spread through coughing or sneezing, can mutate when patients do not complete or are careless with their treatment or are dispensed inadequate antibiotic cocktails.