Tuberculosis is Still a Threat Today



What do you picture when you think of tuberculosis? Do you picture beautiful heroines played by the likes of Nicole Kidman and Greta Garbo, coughing delicately into handkerchiefs as they poetically die of consumption? Do you picture a disease that no longer exists, save as a plot device in historical works of fiction? Or do you picture a disease that is still claiming lives around the world today?



With highly publicized threats like the current Ebola epidemic, it is comforting to believe that TB is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that is not true. Tuberculosis is still a global threat.


Worldwide Issue


In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 8.6 million had contracted TB that year, with 1.3 million fatalities. Although these totals are worldwide, 80% of the cases came from 22 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The United States is not exempt from or immune to the spread of the disease. In 2013, there were 9,588 new cases recorded in the U.S.



While it is important to remember that TB is still an active and deadly disease, it is also worth noting that its spread is decreasing. The 9,588 cases reported in the United States reflected a 4.2% drop from 2012 to 2013. Although 8.6 million contracted the disease worldwide in 2012, that figure is 45% less than the number of cases in 1990. With that in mind, WHO is confident they can achieve their goal of a 50% decrease by 2015.



Contracting TB


Tuberculosis is an airborne illness, spread person to person. Coughing, sneezing, and spitting are the most common ways for germs to spread. Those with HIV/AIDs, diabetes, malnutrition, or who have traveled to or live in one of the 22 countries listed above have a higher risk of contracting the disease.



Fortunately, of those exposed to the disease, many remain latent carriers. In fact, it is estimated that one third of the world’s population are latent carriers. Latent carriers do not currently suffer symptoms of the disease, nor can they spread it. They do, however have a 10% risk of developing active TB in the future.



In addition to latent and active TB, there is also multi-drug resistant TB. Multi-drug resistant TB is a strain of TB bacteria that is nonresponsive to the two most common and effective anti-TB medications.





The good news, however, is that TB is both curable and preventable.



Early detection is the best route to containment and cure. If you have a higher risk of contracting the disease — see high risk examples above — or have been in contact with an active carrier, it is in your best interest to get tested right away. TB can be detected through a skin test (TST) or via modern blood tests.



Although TB treatment is not quick or easy, there are drugs that are proven to effectively fight the disease. Just as it is important to detect and treat the disease early, it is equally important to remain under a physician’s care during treatment. Multi-drug resistant TB usually occurs when patients do not follow prescribed directions for treatment and misuse treatment drugs.



Tuberculosis is still undeniably a global threat. Thankfully, proper education, detection and treatment ensure that the number of active cases continues to dwindle each year. Help fight TB by staying informed and getting tested if you feel you are at risk.



Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer interested in doing everything it takes to live a healthier life. You can follow her on Twitter at @foodierx or read more of her work on her blog Miss Rx.


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