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Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis hovers threateningly at Australia’s door

Tony Kirby explains why we should provide full care to all people arriving with resistant tuberculosis

It was hoped that extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) might never arrive on Australia’s shores. But new cases raise the spectre of death for patients, transmission to others and large costs for Australian taxpayers. Papua New Guinea (PNG) national Catherina Abraham, aged 20 years, “made it” to Australia and hit the headlines in October 2012 because she had been diagnosed with XDR-TB.1 After almost a year in an isolation ward at Cairns Base Hospital, she died on 8 March 2013. Her treatment cost Queensland Health about $500 000 and would have cost $1 million had she lived to complete it.1 Now another PNG national has been diagnosed with XDR-TB in Australia. In the preceding 8 years, only two other XDR-TB cases were recorded in Australia.2

According to Queensland Health, the most recently diagnosed patient came through the Torres Strait, was referred to Cairns Base Hospital and was transferred to PNG health services before the laboratory diagnosis of XDR-TB was made. He or she is currently in Daru Hospital (in PNG’s…