An Armenian doctor showing chest x-rays used to track a patient’s tuberculosis that has been resistant to drug therapy. Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times
Garik Hakobyan, 34, an artist, carries an ailment, XDR-TB, an incurable form of tuberculosis.
As if you didn’t have enough to worry about … consider the deadly, infectious and highly portable disease sitting in the lungs of a charming young man here, Garik Hakobyan. In effect, he’s a time bomb.
Mr. Hakobyan, 34, an artist, carries an ailment that stars in the nightmares of public health experts – XDR-TB, the scariest form of tuberculosis. It doesn’t respond to conventional treatments and is often incurable.
XDR-TB could spread to your neighborhood because it isn’t being aggressively addressed now, before it rages out of control. It’s being nurtured by global complacency.
When doctors here in Armenia said they would introduce me to XDR patients, I figured we would all be swathed in protective clothing and chat in muffled voices in a secure ward of a hospital. Instead, they simply led me outside to a public park, where Mr. Hakobyan sat on a bench with me.
“It’s pretty safe outside, because his coughs are dispersed,” one doctor explained, “but you wouldn’t want to be in a room or vehicle with him.” Then I asked Mr. Hakobyan how he had gotten to the park.
“A public bus,” he said.
He saw my look and added: “I have to take buses. I don’t have my own Lincoln Continental.” To his great credit, Mr. Hakobyan is trying to minimize his contact with others and doesn’t date, but he inevitably ends up mixing with people.
Afterward, I asked one of his doctors if Mr. Hakobyan could have spread his lethal infection to other bus passengers. “Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “There was one study that found that a single TB patient can infect 14 other people in the course of a single bus ride.”
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