It has been known for some time that the former Soviet Union had a huge tuberculosis problem. The problem was so big that no one really knew how bad it was in the Soviet Union or is now in its successor states. Over the last couple months, three reports have appeared in Euro Surveillance and Emerging Infectious Diseases that begin to quantitate the problem.
In the first report, France sent out a warning to states accepting immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Over the last two complete years 2010 and 2011, France has experienced a surge in multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis.
When they examined the country of birth for these cases, almost all of the surge came from countries of the former Soviet Union (fig. 1) . When they looked for more regionalism, they discovered that the majority of the increase came from the country of Georgia and the Russian Federation. For the more worrisome extensively drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis, the vast majority of the French cases have come from the former Soviet Union going back to 2008; 14 of 17 cases in 2012 came from Georgia (fig. 3) . Genetic analysis of the MDR-TB and XDR-TB strains in France showed variation indicating that transmission did not occur in France but was brought into France by immigration .
A survey of MDR-TB in Uzbekistan yielded even more grim results. In the first national TB survey, 23% of all newly diagnosed cased of TB and 62% of previously treated cases were resistant to at least two antibiotics; only 3.8% of MDR-TB cases were co-infected with HIV . The XDR-TB rate was 5.3% with no HIV co-infections . Demographics analysis yielded three primary risk factors or groups: adults under age 45, institutionalization in prisons or previous anti-TB treatment centers, and not owning their own home .
The news out of Siberia is no better. A survey published last month showed MDR-TB rates in Siberia are over 25% of primary TB cases with a a mean age of 33 . The two regions, Irkutsk and Yakutia had strains of different origins. The Irkutsk MDR-TB were primarily a common Beijing lineage. On the other hand, the more isolated community of Yakutia had the MDR-TB S256 strain that has been linked with a strain only found among Canadian aboriginal population . The linkage between these the Siberian and Canadian strains have not yet been fully investigated. While these strains are related they are not identical so it is possible that these are a previously undetected ancient lineage that has developed antibiotic resistance in Russia. This was the first isolation of this strain in Russia. The Siberian strains had uncommon mutations in the resistance genes that would not have been picked up well by commercial tests. Zhdanova and co-authors stress the importance of investigating regional strains and developing tests that will adequately detect local strains.
MDR-TB rates from the former Soviet Union are higher than anywhere else in the world . These surveys show that it is even worse than the WHO estimated in 2010. It is far worse than any survey coming out of South Africa, a country often mentioned as being a particular concern for MDR-TB. For comparison, the MDR-TB rate for the United States in 2011 was 1% for MDR-TB and far less than 1% for XDR-TB . Given the vast size and population of the former Soviet Union, migration out of former Soviet states could jump-start a new white plague, strains of TB that even the best medical care will have difficulty keeping under control.
- Bernard, C., Brossier, F., Sougakoff, W., Veziris, N., Frechet-Jachym, M., Metivier, N., et al. (2013). A surge of MDR and XDR tuberculosis in France among patients born in the Former Soviet Union. Euro Surveillance : bulletin européen sur les maladies transmissibles = European communicable disease bulletin, 18(33).
- Ulmasova, D. J., Uzakova, G., Tillyashayhov, M. N., Turaev, L., van Gemert, W., Hoffmann, H., et al. (2013). Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Uzbekistan: results of a nationwide survey, 2010 to 2011. Euro Surveilliance : bulletin européen sur les maladies transmissibles = European communicable disease bulletin, 18(42).
- Zhdanova, S., Heysell, S. K., Ogarkov, O., Boyarinova, G., Alexeeva, G., Pholwat, S., et al. (2013). Primary Multidrug-Resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis in 2 Regions, Eastern Siberia, Russian Federation. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 19(10), 1649–1652. doi:10.3201/eid1910.121108
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 (pp. 1–114). Department of Health and Human Services.
- World Health Organization. (2010) Multidrug and extensively drug-resistant TB (M/XDR-TB): 2010 Global Report on Surveillance and Response. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241599191_eng.pdf