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Autoimmune Drugs Linked to Tuberculosis Cases

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By Paul Simao

Drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases have been linked to tuberculosis cases in California, U.S. health officials said on Thursday. Twelve Californians who had taken the anti-inflammatory drugs Remicade (infliximab) or Enbrel (etanercept) tested positive for TB between January 2002 and August 2003, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two of those infected died after undergoing treatment for TB, a lung disease that is spread by coughing and close personal contact and usually cured with antibiotics.

Remicade, marketed by Johnson & Johnson and Schering-Plough Corp., is usually prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. Enbrel, sold by Wyeth and Amgen Inc., is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news – web sites) has said that TB infection is a potential side effect for people who take Remicade, Enbrel or Humira, another inflammation-blocking drug, according to the CDC report. Humira is sold by Abbott Laboratories Inc.

"As the use of these blocking agents expands, associated cases of TB might increase," the CDC report said. "Vigilance for TB in association with these agents is critical to early recognition and successful treatment." Health officials urged doctors to screen their patients for TB before prescribing the drugs. Half of the California victims were not screened even though most were born in countries where TB is prevalent or had another risk factor.

The CDC report comes amid signs that a global tuberculosis epidemic is partly responsible for the rising number of cases in California, Texas and other U.S. states with large immigrant populations. More than half of the 14,871 new cases of active TB in the United States last year occurred among people born abroad to non-U.S.-born parents, according to a CDC study released earlier this year. Source: Yahoo! Health News.

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