3 Notable Cases of Modern Drug Resistant Strains

by on December 5, 2012

Drugs, as we all know, are designed to destroy disease. So you might be surprised to learn that they sometimes do the opposite––they make viruses stronger. The principles of evolution dictate that biological organisms must adapt to survive in their environments or inevitably die off. When we alter the natural environment by introducing everything from hand sanitizer to antibiotics, we create conditions that can breed super-viruses, even while fighting to eliminate ordinary ones.

Here are the three most notable cases of modern drug resistant strains:


Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis or MDRTB is perhaps the earliest identified and most well known drug-resistant disease.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the lungs, which results in blood splattered coughs, fever, weight loss, and lung deterioration. It is believed to be latently carried by as much as 33% of the world population, but only presents itself in about 1/10 of those infected. Of those, about half will die. The disease particularly affects victims with weakened immune systems, such as alcoholics, smokers, the malnourished, and diabetics.

Researchers estimate about 44% of all tuberculosis cases are drug resistant, and the disease has proven difficult to manage for nearly a century now. Countries in the former Soviet bloc seem to have much higher percentages of MDRTB than elsewhere on the globe.


 Malaria is thought to be the single most common cause of premature death in human history. Though it has been nearly eradicated in much of the western world, it persists as a serious life-threatening force throughout most of the world.

Malaria is a mosquito-born disease, and is transmitted from infected livestock to human through the virus-carrying salivary ducts of the pregnant female insects, who require blood meals to incubate their eggs. The disease itself doesn’t actually kill; it alters the shape of human blood cells. But the infection-fighting fever it provokes is often severe enough to cause brain swelling and death.

Recently, various drug resistant strains have been discovered in Southeast Asia. One strain is becoming increasingly common in the area around the Thai and Burmese border. Another, discovered several years earlier, is spreading in Cambodia. The strains appear to be resistant to the current leading anti-malarial drug, called an Artemisinin, which is derived from the Chinese Sweet Wormwood plant. Scientists fear that if the strain is able to spread into Africa, where the majority of malaria deaths occur, it will mean a setback of 15 years or more in battling the disease. It would be a devastating development in the history of malaria, which claims over a life a minute, and mostly kills pregnant women and children. In the 1970’s a previous evolution in the disease caused a similar resistance to the drug Chloroquine, dramatically increasing the yearly malarial death rates.


AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and it affects an estimated 14 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization. Only about half of the carriers are currently receiving treatment, and an estimated 2.7 million new cases arise each year.

AIDS and HIV ravage the human immune system, making victims vulnerable to various types of cancer and ordinarily benign viruses such as influenza. The WHO estimates that 30 million lives have already been claimed by the disease, and that 1.8 million more die each year.

Unfortunately, treatment attempts are being undermined by a new drug resistant strain that is proliferating in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is spreading at an alarming rate. It is believed that the strain has been created by victims who are unable, or unwilling, to keep up with their drug regiments. If the new drug-resistant strain continues to spread, it will be a massive setback for scientists and doctors battling the AIDS epidemic.

The frightening aspect of viruses like these is their ability to evolve faster than our medicines. Often, they become more aggressive and dangerous as a result of our attempts to kill them off. And with advancements in modern science, these attempts are only becoming more widespread and commonplace. Obviously, there is no easy solution to the problem. But with continued research, scientists are learning more about how and why theses strains manage to flourish despite treatment. Hopefully, we will soon be able to avoid them altogether.

This was a guest post by Sophie Webb for CancerResearchUk.  If you are suffering with Cancer or know someone who is then visit Cancer Research who provide help and support.

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