U.S. hospitals are helping keep a worldwide tuberculosis epidemic at bay by making sure infected patients take their medicine.
The World Health Organization last month said new TB cases will arise at a rate of one per second unless every nation starts practicing "directly observed treatment." That technique has proved to diminish the spread of TB in many areas worldwide. U.S. infection-control experts say directly observed treatment has been a success for healthcare providers in this country.
"We support directly observed treatment as a strategy, and we're already seeing results in this country," said Gina Pug-liese, director of infection control and environmental safety for the American Hospital Association.
With directly observed treatment, healthcare workers literally watch TB patients swallow their medicine. The patients' progress is then observed for six months.
The typical course of treatment for TB is six months with four different drugs. Observation of the patient is often necessary because many sufferers, particularly those who are indigent or homeless, will not continue taking their medication without such supervision.
The cure rate for TB treatment is 95%, the AHA said.
The practice can be expensive, but the World Health Organization said the yearly death toll for TB will rise to 4 million by the year 2005 if directly observed treatment isn't adopted. The AHA doesn't keep figures on costs for directly observed treatment but said it could be labor-intensive.
The worldwide increase in TB will have an impact on U.S. hospital admissions, even though U.S. TB cased dropped 5% in 1993, Pugliese said. She cited statistics that show foreign-born residents of the United States accounted for 60% of the nation's TB cases from 1986 to 1992.