Why is latent tuberculosis usually treated with one antibiotic while active tuberculosis is treated with 2 or more drugs?

Conventional wisdom has been that in active tuberculosis (TB) patients harbor large numbers of replicating Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), requiring multiple antibiotics to prevent the emergence of resistant mutants. In contrast, Mtb under latent or “inactive” conditions is presumed to have little capacity for mutation due to reduced bacterial replication, thus generally requiring only one antibiotic for preventive therapy.1

However, the assumption that Mtb has a low capacity for mutation in latent TB due to slow bacterial replication has been challenged in recent years. An experimental study in macaque monkeys with latent Mtb infection using whole genome sequencing demonstrated that despite reduced replication, Mtb acquires a similar number of chromosomal mutations during latency as it does during active infection.1

This finding supports the more current and evolving concept of latent TB which assumes diverse mycobacterial growth states, ranging from complete absence of organisms to actively replicating bacterial populations.2 It also explains why, although effective, isoniazid monotherapy may be a risk factor for the emergence of INH resistance in latent TB. 1,3

 Bonus Pearl: Did you know that INH treatment of latent TB in adults is 60-80% protective when given for 6 months, and 90% protective when given for 9 months? 4


  1. Ford CB, Lin PL, Chase M, et al . Use of whole genome sequencing to estimate the mutation rate of Mycobacterium tuberculosis during latent infection. Nat Genet. 2011;43:482-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3101871/
  2. Gideon HP, Flynn JL. Latent tuberculosis: what the host “sees”? Immunol Res 2011;50:202-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21717066
  3. Balcells ME, Thomas SL, Faussett PG, et al. Isoniazid preventive therapy and risk for resistant tuberculosis. Emerg Infect Dis 2006;12:744-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16704830
  4. Piccini P, Chiappini E, Tortoli E, et al. Clinical peculiarities of tuberculosis. BMC Infect Dis 2014; 14 (Suppl 1):S4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015485/


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Why is latent tuberculosis usually treated with one antibiotic while active tuberculosis is treated with 2 or more drugs?

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