My grandmother died from Tuberculosis (TB) back in the 1940s up in Platinum Alaska with only coughing symptoms. While serving in the military, I was exposed to TB during one of my deployments and showed no symptoms other than a positive skin test. Being that Tuberculosis (TB) Day is March 24; I thought it would be helpful to provide some enlightenment on TB facts (from both the CDC and Mayo Clinic) and myths and how it could possibly minimize risk for you or eliminate some of the bogus information that is out in the public knowledge.
As a kid, I had received several of the skin tests (always negative) during school where they prick the skin with a needle and then several days later check the skin to see if there is a response. It was only later during my military career that one day the test came back positive. I first felt that it must be a wrong reading and asked myself “What did I do wrong.” After the skin test came back positive, I was then given a chest X-ray to see if it was a dormant or active infection. Fortunately for me, it was a dormant infection and the biggest thing I had to do was take an antibiotic pill (isoniazid) everyday for 6 months and get checkups for two years to make sure that it was completely gone. To this day, I can no longer take the TB skin test as it will now show a false positive.
TB used to be more prevalent throughout the world and used to be called such things as consumption. At one time in Europe, it is estimated that it caused about 25% of all deaths during the 1800’s. So to help out, here is a list of TB facts:
- The CDC says that catching TB on a plane is low risk unless the flight is over 8 hours;
- TB is now considered a global health emergency as the WHO estimates that 1/3 of the world’s population who has HIV is also infected with TB;
- Left untreated, a person with active TB will infect 10 to 15 people per year;
- TB can lie dormant for many years showing no symptoms that the person has it;
- TB has been with humanity for over 17,000 years;
- The biggest push for pasteurized milk was to decrease the spread of TB from the large farm milk supplies.
There are many other interesting tidbits that can be found from the WHO TB site here.
Being that the disease is potentially fatal and can’t be seen, it is easy to understand why many myths started about this disease. Here are some of the myths that have followed the disease:
- You can’t catch TB by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, from bed sheets, toilets, or kissing;
- Families that used to get TB were thought to have been targeted by vampires as the remaining family members would slowly weaken. It was as if vampires were coming back to feed;
- TB is a genetic disease (it is actually caused by bacteria);
- TB is a disease of the poor – in reality it can be passed to anyone;
- I don’t have the disease because the TST test was negative – actually about 20% of people who test negative can still have TB
- Only people with active TB need medication – the truth is that even if TB is dormant it can become active later. Medication will need to be taken to help prevent it from becoming active later.
There is currently research going on (for both detection and treatment) that is funded by both government and private charity grants. There is an increasing concern about this disease as there are now antibiotic resistant strains that defy current methods to treat and stop the disease. Finding out early if you have TB is the best way to get treated before it gets too bad or you pass it on to someone you love. Sun Tzu once wrote that the best way to defeat an enemy is to know both yourself and the enemy. Hopefully we can learn enough to defeat this disease before it gets a stronger foothold.