Infectious Diseases Rising Again in Russia

VORONEZH, Russia-Russian doctors are being forced to use old methods of medicating tuberculosis patients because the medication is not accessible and is too expensive.

Many are injecting air into their patients' abdomens as a final method of treatment. This archaic and painful tactic of fighting TB hasn't been used in the West for decades. The technique compresses the infected lung, giving it time to heal. Doctors have little choice with more drug-resistant strains of TB showing up daily.

Tuberculosis has become an epidemic in a country where it was once a rarity. During the Soviet Union days, the Sanitation and Epidemiology Service would remove people suspected of harboring infectious diseases from their homes. Vaccinations and annual disease screenings were mandatory. Although the tactics were considered brutal, they were effective.

Now Russian have human rights-and more infectious diseases than they know how to handle. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prison populations in Russia soared. Some estimate that up to 10% of Russia's million prisoners are infected with TB.

The disease, spread by particles coughed or sneezed into crowded spaces, is not new to Russia. However, it has been previously controlled. Other infectious diseases on the rise include hepatitis, syphilis, and AIDS.

Government programs are fighting to stay ahead of these diseases, but lack of funds and staff keep them behind. Plus, infections are propelled by increasing poverty, stress, alcoholism, over crowding, and intravenous drug use.

Many TB patients have drug-resistant strains, which are extremely costly to treat. Without the appropriate medication from the beginning, TB easily becomes resistant. The World Health Organization estimates that drugs to treat an ordinary case of TB would cost $20. A drug-resistant case would cost $13,000 to treat.

Now Russian doctors are worried that the TB epidemic could lead to epidemics of other diseases. HIV rates are rising quickly in Russia, along with syphilis and hepatitis B. More alarming is the change in sexual behavior. Dr. Olga Loseva, chief of the venereal diseases department at the Central Research Institute for Skin and Venereal Disease in Moscow said sex is a new form of currency in Russia. She said there is a sexual revolution happening and more people are becoming promiscuous.

Intravenous drug use is also on the rise. An estimated three million Russians use such drugs. Health officials, who say that HIV is largely confined to intravenous drug users, are worried about the virus spreading among sexual partners. A recent study of drug-using prostitutes showed that more than 50% are infected with HIV.

Russian pediatricians have also noticed a rise in congenital syphilis and hepatitis B among children. Immunity is down because of poverty, too little food and difficult access to healthcare.

Health officials have been warned that cholera, polio, and the plague from Chechnya may soon show up as well.

Information from The New York Times.