The World Health Organization’s (WHO) new survey reports the highest global rates ever recorded for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are occurring today. The survey also found that 45 countries have recorded cases of the virtually untreatable form of the disease, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

The survey, titled Anti-tuberculosis drug resistance in the world, covers 90,000 TB patients in 81 countries. The data was collected between 2002 and 2006.

TB is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a bacterium. It is an airborne disease spread by the coughing of infected people and is treatable and curable if caught early. Despite these facts, the bacterium has evolved into numerous drug resistant forms—a scenario that presents public health authorities with major challenges in eradication.

“TB drug resistance needs a formal frontal assault. If countries and the international community fail to address it aggressively now we will lose this battle,” says Mario Raviglione, Md, director of the WHO Stop TB department.

The survey estimates that nearly half a million new cases of MDR-B occur globally each year, accounting for 5% of all 9 million new TB infections. The highest incidence of MDR-TB was discovered in Baku, Azerbaijan, located between eastern Europe and western Asia. Almost 25% of new TB cases here were of the multidrug resistant type.

Visit the Stop TB website to read more about the global plan to stop TB.