Tuberculosis drugs in short supply

Posted at: 07/09/2013 5:48 PM
Updated at: 07/09/2013 5:52 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

New Mexico doctors are running low on supplies of a drug they need to treat people with tuberculosis.

Many people think TB is one of those bad diseases of the past that we’ve conquered – like polio or smallpox. Not so. It is still an active threat and there is a shortage of one of the main medicines for treating it and keeping it from spreading.

It’s called INH for short, and even though drug companies are ramping up production it’s still in short supply. In New Mexico doctors have to save it for actively infected patients and high-risk patients with inactive infections. Lower risk people don’t get any. Some states are in far worse shape.

“Fortunately, we recognized the shortage early,” said Diana Fortune, a nurse who manages the state Health Department’s TB program. “We took action to make sure we had it for the highest priority patients, so we’re still doing okay right now.”

“At the moment, being short on this drug, if we don’t get back to levels where we can treat – actively treat – people as we did up until last year, it will eventually start to spread again,” said Dr. Scott Norville, who heads the state Infectious Diseases Bureau.

“We would like to get back to treating everybody that has TB infection at some point,” said Fortune. “As soon as we are assured that we have ample supplies then we will continue to do that.”

New Mexico had 40 active TB cases last year, a significant drop from the year before and one of the lowest since record-keeping began long ago. But without the right medicine it’ll be hard to keep that number from rising.

The main symptoms of TB are: persistent cough lasting maybe three weeks, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fatigue.