Tuberculosis spreading on PNG island at 'phenomenal' rate

7:53 am on 13 January 2016

A communicable disease expert says a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis on the Papua New Guinea island of Daru is spreading at a phenomenal rate.

Fly River, Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

PNG's Western Province has battled to keep numbers of tuberculosis patients on Daru Island down. Photo: EM TV

Brendan Crabb, from Australia's Burnet Institute, says more than 160 of the 15,000 people on the island have been infected - a scale that hasn't been seen before in PNG.

He says environmental factors including poverty, a sub-optimal health system and poor housing and nutrition have contributed to its spread, but researchers are worried a unique superbug may have developed.

"Traditionally drug-resistant strains of TB are considered to be less fit than the non-drug resistant forms - they're poor growers and poor spreaders. The concern here is that may not be the case and we need to do some work to find out if there is indeed a superbug - a drug-resistant organism that's spreading very well."

Professor Crabb says further research is needed into the Daru outbreak, but authorities need to act quickly to contain it.