Health & Safety

March 29, 2012

Tuberculosis still poses risks today

Written by: anradmin
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World Tuberculosis Day took place March 24.  An estimated two million people die every year around the world due to a known and treatable disease.  The disease in question is not one whispered in fear and cannot be immunized globally to prevent the spread of the pandemic.  The disease is tuberculosis, or historically known as “The Red Death,” “Consumption,” “the Romantic Disease,” and “Lunger Disease.”

TB is one of the oldest known bacterial pathogens.  Animal remains from 100,000 years ago show spinal columns infected with TB.  Humans were infected between 20,000 and 5,000 B.C.  The civilizations of Egypt, Greece, India, China and the Incans have physician notes or archaeological records of TB within their societies.  Queen Nefertiti’s mummy shows she may have died from TB.  In 460 B.C., Hippocrates wrote that TB was one of the leading causes of death within ancient Greece.

By the beginning of the 18th and 19th centuries, industrial revolutions in Europe and America started to take hold, so did TB. People were leaving their farms, moving to big cities and living in crowed housing with limited sanitation.  It is estimated that 30 million people immigrated to the United States between 1836 and 1914, most of whom settled in densely populated cities.  These conditions contributed to more cases of TB disease, with nearly one-third of deaths at that time related to TB.

By the beginning of the 20th century, scientific advances helped diagnose and treat TB.  Inventions like the stethoscope and x-rays helped provide a clear picture of how the disease progresses.  The first antibiotic to have an effect on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, was Streptomycin, developed in 1944.  This medication is still used today, along with other medications.

The Mantoux test or the Purified Protein Derivative was developed in 1907.  This TB skin test is still used today for Soldiers deploying overseas, healthcare and childcare staff, immigrants, and those who may be in close contact with persons at high risk of infection.

Since the 1980s and the emergence of the HIV infection, there has been an increase in the number people with TB throughout the world, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out 10 persons who contract TB disease have HIV.  HIV weakens the immune system which makes it easier for Mycobacterium tuberculosis to progress to TB. Today it estimated that 11.4 million people have TB and HIV worldwide.

TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which may infect the lungs, spinal cord, brain and kidneys.  The spread of TB is actually quite difficult.  TB is airborne which means its tiny particles may stay suspended in the air and travel from one person to another. The TB bacteria go into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, or speaks. People become infected when they breathe in these bacteria.  Thus, TB is a concern in homes or barracks where people live in close quarters.

TB is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing household items, sharing food or drinks, or kissing.  Not everyone who is exposed to TB becomes infected. Not everyone who becomes infected with TB becomes sick. There are two TB-related conditions: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease which is also known as “active disease.”

People with Latent TB do not feel sick and cannot spread the infection.  But, if the TB bacteria become active and multiply, the person may develop TB disease.  Symptoms of TB disease include: coughing for three weeks or longer, coughing up blood or sputum, unexplained fatigue or loss of appetite or weight loss, fever, chills or sweating at night.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/tb.




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