South Africa's TB Nightmare

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Health officials are worried the patient with a rare and deadly form of tuberculosis may have spread the disease to people he came in contact with on two trans-continental flights.

CBS News producer Sarah Carter reports from Johannesburg about a similar case of drug-resistant TB two years ago that took the lives of dozens of people:

Nurses collected samples from the two very ill patients, and 43 others being treated with TB and anti-retroviral drugs, and sent them off. By the time the results came back eight weeks later, 10 of the patients were dead, including the two who had been very ill.

Of the 45 samples, 10 were resistant to all six TB drugs they tested for.
"I got a cold shiver, with such fear in my heart," Moll said. "I thought, 'This is airborne. Could I be infected? Could my staff be infected?' To go into a new realm of XDR-TB, which is basically untreatable, was almost unthinkable," he said, using the acronym for Extremely Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis.

Moll's worst fears were eventually realized. Four of the hospital nurses died in those first few months. From that point on, the hospital began identifying more and more patients. And in almost all cases the patients with XDR-TB were dead before the lab results were back. Most die within 16 days of being identified as a possible XDR-TB case. The mortality rate of XDR-TB is 84 percent.

Since the first two cases, close to 3 years ago, doctors at the Church of Scotland Hospital have identified 266 people with XDR-TB.

That is just one small hospital. Across South Africa, doctors in all nine provinces have reported XDR-TB cases.

"It seems to be simmering, with increasing numbers each month," says Moll said. "It's not explosive, but it's slow, insidious increasing numbers."

With recent U.S. fears of tuberculosis being stoked by a Georgia man's trans-Atlantic travels while infected with XDR-TB, South Africa's struggles serve as an ominous reminder of how deadly the disease can be.

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