Because the number of U.S. cases of tuberculosis (TB) has declined over the last few decades, many Americans believe that there is no incidence of the illness in this country. This is a misconception.
One of the goals of World TB Day, observed on March 24, is to let people know that U.S. residents are still dying from this disorder. Among infectious diseases, TB ranks second as a killer of adults worldwide, with 1.5 million deaths linked to it in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. A second objective is finding and treating TB, then working together to eliminate it.
World TB Day commemorates the discovery of the bacillus responsible for tuberculosis. This find is credited to Dr. Robert Koch, who on March 24, 1882, discovered Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This German physician received a Nobel Prize for his efforts.
When Koch made his discovery, the illness killed one of every seven individuals in Europe and the United States. The World Health Organization and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease sponsored the first World TB Day in 1982, a century after the discovery.
TB is an infectious disease that can be serious. The bacteria responsible for it spread from one individual to another in the air. Although the illness was once rare in developed nations, healthcare providers began seeing U.S. cases in the mid-1980s, due to the appearance of HIV, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The CDC publishes information on state activities for each year’s World TB Day.
Unfortunately, some TB strains are now resistant to medications commonly used to treat this lung condition. Since researchers developed the initial antibiotics to fight the illness, the bacteria have had 60 years to develop an ability to survive despite these medications. They pass this ability on to their descendants.
TB left untreated can be fatal. It affects the lungs, but can also infect a patient’s bones, brain, liver, kidneys, and/or heart. Unfortunately, the skin test for TB sometimes gives the wrong results.
In patients with latent TB, the bacteria stay inactive in the body and don’t create obvious signs of the illness. Treatment usually involves taking just one drug.
Active TB causes a person to become obviously ill and can spread to other individuals. Patients with the active form of the disease typically take several drugs simultaneously.
As an elementary student in the 1950s, I was just one of thousands of Ohio children who underwent chest X-rays in a mobile van. My mother nearly went into a panic when the principal told her I would need to have a second X-ray because officials thought I had TB.
I was in first grade and missed six weeks of school due to both types of measles, chickenpox, and some sort of mysterious flu. The verdict of the second film was no TB, but doctors offered no explanation of the problem.
In college, I got a call from the student health center. After looking at my entrance X-rays, the doctor ordered a skin test for histoplasmosis. It was positive. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, this fungal infection is common to the area where I grew up and is sometimes called Ohio River Valley fever.
Today’s films still show the same heavy scarring seen around my windpipe in childhood. Every time I have chest films, I have to explain before the radiologist reads them that I don’t have TB and that my first-grade “flu” and source of the scars was really histoplamosis.