Tuberculosis, or TB, as it is commonly called, killed 1.4 million people in 2011, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Awareness, vaccines and treatment are needed to eradicate this preventable and curable disease. For that reason, Stop TB Day is observed worldwide every year on March 23.
TB is a bacterial disease that usually attacks the lungs, but that can also infect the brain, kidneys and skeleton. It was also known as the “white plague” and “consumption” because it causes drastic weight loss and makes a person look as if they are wasting away or being consumed. Evidence found in Egyptian mummies supports the notion that this disease has been around for at least 4,000 years.
TB can infect anyone, as well as animals like cattle, birds and fish. Among humans, it usually affects young adults, and is very difficult to diagnose in children. For the first several months of being infected, mild symptoms like coughing, fever, night sweats and weight loss may delay seeking medical care and increase the chances of infecting others in close contact. Advanced symptoms include chest pain, coughing blood and drastic weight loss.
According to the WHO, one third of the world’s population has latent TB, meaning they are infected with the TB bacteria but are not contagious and have no symptoms. With no treatment 10 per cent of these people will develop the disease during their lifetime. Those with a weak immune system are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
In 1882, German physician, scientist and Nobel Prize winner Robert Koch discovered Mycobacterium tuberculosis was the cause of TB. Today, more than a century later, the diagnosis and treatment of TB is still a challenge for physicians and scientists because there are different forms of the disease, some of which have become resistant to two or more of the anti-TB drugs.Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB) is a strain that does not respond to the combination of isoniazid and rifampin, the two drugs called first-line treatment, and used to treat everyone infected. Extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB) is a rare type of multi-drug resistance that does not respond to the combination of the first-line treatments, or fluoroquinolone and at least one of three injectable second-line drugs (i.e., amikacin, kanamycin, or capreomycin).
TB’s resistance to antibacterial drugs is the result of taking the wrong drugs, using poor quality ones, taking the wrong dosage, taking the treatment for the wrong length of time or any combination of these factors.
Getting the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, avoiding poorly ventilated crowded places and visiting the doctor if you suspect you have been in contact with someone who has the disease are some of the recommended preventions.
- TB is the second greatest worldwide killer due to a single infectious agent, second only to HI V/AI DS.
- TB is a leading killer of people living with HI V, causing one quarter of all deaths.
- In virtually all countries surveyed, they have found multi-drug resistant TB types.
- 95 percent of all TB-related deaths occur in developing countries.
- 20 percent of the world’s TB cases can be linked to tobacco smoking.
For more information
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