33%: That’s how many people in the world are infected with the the germ that causes tuberculosis (TB bacilli). It is the leading cause of death of infectious disease. In fact, in the time it takes you to read this sentence approximately 2 more people in the world became infected, as every second one more person in the world acquires the infection. The problem with this infection is that it actually lays dormant in most people. In fact, only 5-10% of those infected actually develop symptoms associated with this disease. This causes a problem in that it is hard to control (most people do not know they have it), and if someone was to acquire a different disease that left their immune system compromised, this disease could surface and create a deadly combination. Thus, in areas of the world where HIV runs rampant, the acquisition of tuberculosis can become an instant death sentence. Here are some facts about tuberculosis:
*Note: Tuberculosis Infection means the person has the bacilli in their system, but it is dormant. Tuberculosis Disease means the person has the bacilli in their system that is active, thus showing symptoms and becoming ill.
Pathology: Tuberculosis is a highly contagious disease. It is spread through small particles that can spread through sneezing, breathing in the same room as someone who is infected, sharing food or drinks, etc. Tuberculosis is harbored into the lungs, so if an infected person expels these bacilli every time they speak or breathe. Once the tuberculosis enters the body of a newly infected person, a cell in the lungs called the macrophage essentially swallows up the bacteria. Now, the bacteria is able to transport throughout your body through the lymphatic system and the bloodstream, spreading to all major organs, where it further multiplies.
Symptoms: (only when it becomes the active disease) nausea, weakness, fatigue, rapid weight loss, fever, night sweats, cough, chest pain, coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
Treatment: Tuberculosis disease is treated with a 6-9 month course of drugs. Unfortunately, many people take the drugs until the symptoms disappear, and then they stop the treatment. Although the symptoms may be gone, the bacilli are not. This leaves the strongest bacilli behind, which has led to the development of MDR (multi-drug resistant) tuberculosis. For those in public health, MDR Tb is a frightening thing, because there is no real treatment for it except for very expensive chemotherapy. This could have astronomically devastating effects on the world if this MDR strain is spread. Therefore, if you are diagnosed with Tuberculosis, it is IMPERATIVE that you finish all of your medicine as prescribed (on a smaller scale, the same applies to simple antibiotics).
Prevention: There is a vaccine that is available in some countries, although it is unknown if it prevents pulmonary tuberculosis. The best thing to do is get a TB test if you have been in an area that has a higher prevalence of tuberculosis (foreign countries, hospitals, prisons, etc). It is a simple test that can be performed at any doctors office or hospital.
Mortality (number of deaths): over 3 million people a year
Morbidity (incidence of disease): 2 billion people (33% of the world’s population)
Epidemiology (where the disease occurs): Tuberculosis has not been fully eradicated in any country.
Interesting Statistics/ Facts:
- African Americans, Asians, and Latinos suffer the highest infection rates
- Approximately 20,000 people in the United States have Tuberculosis Disease
- Tuberculosis used to be called “Consumption”
- In 1815, 1/4 deaths was from tuberculosis
- Cats, dogs and other mammals can also become infected with TB
What YOU can do to help:
- Right now, the best thing you can do is become educated and spread your education to other people. Be responsible and get yourself tested for Tb so you don’t inadvertently spread it to your loved ones. If you are in a hospital, make sure that you take extra precautions.
- If you would like to donate money to the cause, you can start by looking at The Global Fund
For more information or to do some research on your own, please consult the following sites: