Researchers reported on Thursday that a cheap, widely accessible antibiotic pill reduces the probability that individuals exposed to drug-resistant tuberculosis may develop the particularly lethal variant of the illness.
According to the World Health Organisation, tuberculosis is the second most deadly infectious illness, killing just marginally fewer people than Covid-19 in the previous year.
An estimated 450,000 people get multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) annually, a disease that is no longer treatable with first-line medications.
MDR-TB treatment was only available to two out of every five patients last year, in part because to the disease’s disproportionately high prevalence in underdeveloped nations.
However, recent research from South Africa presented at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Paris has showed that the widely prescribed antibiotic levofloxacin safely reduces the chance of children developing MDR-TB by 56%.
It was the first randomised, placebo-controlled experiment, which is regarded as the gold standard, to examine if a medication may prevent MDR-TB in children, lead researcher Anneke Hesseling told AFP.
Children living in households where a parent has the illness may benefit greatly from the drug, according to Hesseling, a Stellenbosch University researcher.
“When the kid has been exposed to MDR-TB, they’ve often seen people die – it’s been devastating in their family,” she stated.
In 45 percent of adult Vietnamese participants, levofloxacin avoided the drug-resistant strain, according to the findings of another study that was presented at the conference but has not yet undergone peer review.
When the two research teams combined their efforts, levofloxacin was found to reduce MDR-TB risk by 60% overall for all age groups, according to a statistical method known as Bayesian analysis.
The international health organisation Unitaid provided some funding for the South Africa experiment, which tracked 453 children who were exposed to an MDR-TB-positive adult in their family. Only five people got sick with it.
The research has been dubbed “a major advance that has the potential to protect millions of children from a debilitating illness” by Unitaid Chief Philippe Duneton.
Since it became widely available decades ago, levofloxacin has been used mostly to treat tuberculosis rather than to prevent it.
For six months, the preventive treatment consisted of taking a tablet once daily. Hesseling stated that a more palatable, easily dissolved, and “kid-friendly” form of levofloxacin had been created after the trial.
The study was made public at the same time that the WHO is anticipated to revise its tuberculosis guidelines in the upcoming months.