TB Ramage - One Third
Of World's Population Infected


CHICAGO (Reuters) -- Nearly a third of the world's population is infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, according to a report published on Tuesday, with 7.96 million new cases of the disease reported in 1997.
The study, by the World Health Organization (WHO), blamed poor control strategies for the situation, adding that more than half of the new cases reported in 1997 occurred in five Southeast Asian countries.
Control failures were also cited for high rates in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, along with high rates of HIV infection in some African countries where the disease has hit people whose immune systems have been weakened.
The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, estimated that in the 212 countries monitored by WHO, 1.86 billion people, or 32 percent of the global population, now carry the bacterium that causes the disease.
The study said people are sometimes not aware they have tuberculosis because their bodies respond so effectively that infected areas heal. However, the disease can become active again when the immune system weakens or when the victim becomes malnourished.
The researchers said Southeast Asia accounted for the largest number of tuberculosis cases, with 44 percent of the area's population infected. That area was followed by the Western Pacific region at 36 percent and Africa with 35 percent.
In the eastern Mediterranean, the infection rate was listed at 29 percent, followed by 18 percent in the Americas and 15 percent in Europe.
The authors of the study said high rates of infection with both mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV caused high tuberculosis rates in some African countries.
The study said in 1997, 7.96 million people contracted tuberculosis and about 1.87 million died from it. Of the new cases 3.5 million had infectious lung versions of the disease. The organization said the last previous infection level reading was for 1990, when 7.5 million new cases were recorded.
The report said the countries with highest incidence rate of tuberculosis were India, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, the Russian Federation and Ethiopia.