Of the estimated 9 million individuals who become ill with tuberculosis (TB) each year, nearly 1.5 million of them die from this curable disease. In 1982, to mark the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of the bacteria that causes TB, the World Health Organization sponsored the first World TB Day to raise awareness and educate the public about the effect of the disease around the world. While the world gets ever closer to halting the spread of this disease, each year sees over one million needless deaths. World TB Day is an occasion to shed light on this disease, and educate the public on how we can work together to stop it.
Not everyone who is infected with TB becomes sick.
There are two conditions caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis: latent TB and TB disease. Latent TB occurs in those who are exposed, but whose immune systems are strong enough to stop multiplication of the bacteria inside the body. A person with latent TB does not exhibit symptoms, and without testing might never know he is sick; this person is not able to transmit the disease to others. If, however, the immune is not strong enough to stop the bacteria from multiplying, the exposed person becomes ill with TB disease. Individuals with TB disease are have symptoms of the disease, which include a severe cough, chest pain, fever and weight loss. These individuals can also spread the disease to others.
Who is at risk of developing TB disease?
Anyone who has a compromised immune system is at risk for developing TB disease after exposure. People with an HIV infection are at significantly greater risk for becoming ill after exposure. Indeed, TB is one of the leading causes of deaths for people living with HIV around the world. In addition to those with HIV, frequent drug users, people with diabetes, and people who have previously been exposed to TB are at greater risk for developing TB disease.
The Bacteria can live in the air for several hours.
Tuberculosis is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing the bacteria into the air. Depending on air conditions, the bacteria that causes TB can live in the air for several hours. Because the bacteria can live for so long without a human host, roughly one third of the world’s population has been exposed to TB. Fortunately, most of these people never become ill with TB disease, and are therefore unable to spread the virus to others.
Most cases of TB are curable.
As TB is a bacteria, most cases can be cured with a simple course of antibiotics. The treatment for most strains takes between 6 and 12 months, and may require several different antibiotic drugs. Treatment for drug resistant TB is more complicated. Even with a rigorous course of antibiotics, taken daily for up to two years, as many as six out of ten patients will die. As more and more strains of TB become resistant to drugs, healthcare providers are left scrambling to find drugs that will work. Many of these drugs have limited efficacy and serious side effects. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that 650,000 people worldwide were infected with strains of TB that were resistant to drugs. These strains of the virus are being seen in parts of the world with limited access to health care and the life- saving drugs that can cure TB.
Failure to take the entire recommended dose may cause the strain to become resistant to antibiotics
Patients who do not complete the recommended course of antibiotics risk not only becoming ill again and further spreading the disease, but also risk allowing the bacteria to evolve within their bodies. When this happens, a new strain emerges, which may be resistant to whichever antibiotics the patient was taking. The illness then becomes more difficult to cure, both in the patient, and whoever is infected by the new, drug resistant strain. Successful completion of treatment is crucial for both survival of the individual, and the health of the population.
Centers for Disease Control. (2012, July 17). TB and HIV Coinfection. Retrieved from CDC.gov: http://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/tbhivcoinfection/default.htm
Centers for Disease Control. (2012, March 13). TB Basic Facts. Retrieved from CDC.gov: http://www.cdc.gov/tb/topic/basics/default.htm
Control, C. f. (2014, January 23). World TB Day 2014. Retrieved from CDC.gov: http://www.cdc.gov/tb/events/worldtbday/history.htm
Diseases, N. I. (2012, March 19). Tuberculosis (TB). Retrieved from niaid.nih.gov: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/tuberculosis/understanding/pages/treatment.aspx