Tuberculosis (TB) may seem like an obscure disease; perhaps you were once tested for it during a pre-employment or school physical. But for people in some countries, tuberculosis infection is a real threat, the symptoms are well known, and the death toll is still too high. With the emergence of resistant strains of TB, currently used medications are becoming less effective, and for some strains, treatment is extremely difficult.
And TB is more common than you may think. About one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB, with one new infection occurring every second. Not all infected people are sick with active TB; in fact, 90 percent have “walled off” the bacteria within their lungs and are not ill. But the other 10 percent will develop active, contagious tuberculosis each year, and each person who develops active TB will likely infect at least 10 to 15 other people before s/he is treated.
Tuberculosis Is All About Human Contact
Eradicating the tuberculosis infection in a particular country isn’t a matter of simply providing a clean water supply or non-contaminated food — it’s about setting up an organized system for recognizing the infection, treating it, and reducing transmission from person to person. Tuberculosis is spread by the tiny droplets that become airborne when a person with active TB coughs.
Preventing Tuberculosis Infection
Limiting transmission sounds simple in principle, but it is an elusive goal for many countries. To stop the spread of tuberculosis, people must be treated as soon as they contract it.
The United States has an extremely low incidence of tuberculosis — around 12,000 to 13,000 new diagnoses per year. That’s because the United States has the human resources, an existing healthcare system, and funds needed for controlling the disease. Many countries have none of these things. And those countries, including many in Asia and Africa, are still plagued with high numbers of tuberculosis cases. Effective medications are needed to control tuberculosis and unfortunately some parts of the world either can’t afford or can’t administer them.