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Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is one of the leading causes of all adult deaths worldwide, as well as the leading cause of death in HIV-positive people.
An estimated 1.5 million people die of TB each year. Not all infected persons develop active disease, but the risk of becoming sick is increased when the immune system is weakened, for example by HIV infection.
Effective and affordable medicines to treat TB disease have been available for decades but these must be taken for six to eight months and, if treatment is not completed, the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the bacillus may be encouraged.
According to WHO, only 15 per cent of people with TB disease worldwide are currently receiving the recommended form of treatment known as DOTS (directly-observed treatment, short-course).
Multidrug-resistant strains of TB are of increasing public health concern worldwide. The existing vaccine against tuberculosis, BCG or Bacille Calmette-Guérin, is almost 80 years old. It is effective in infants for preventing some highly dangerous forms of the disease (miliary TB and meningitis) and is widely given to babies through the WHOs Expanded Programme on Immunization. However, additional vaccines are needed to combat this major killer.
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