World Tuberculosis Day was observed on March 24th of this week. Many Americans might think this has nothing to do with them but they would be mistaken. Tuberculosis (TB) is a global disease and its effects are felt worldwide.
TB is one of the world's deadliest diseases and one third of the world's population is infected with it. Each year, nine million people around the world become sick with TB and almost two million people die from TB-related effects. Fortunately, in the US, the numbers are much lower. In 2006, 13,779 Americans had TB. In 2005, 646 Americans died from TB. In Wisconsin, there were 70 new cases of TB in 2007 and 1000 people were being treated for infection from exposure to an active case. Some of these are in our own communities. In truth, everyone is at risk of exposure and illness especially in this era of globalization and easy international travel.
TB is a disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. These germs get into the air when someone who has TB coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. The germs can stay in the air for hours, depending on the environment, and other people can become infected by breathing the contaminated air. TB is not spread by shaking hands, sharing food, drink, or toothbrushes, toilet seats, or kissing.
Oftentimes, the germs are "latent" and inactive in the infected person's body. When the TB germs are inactive, the person is not sick and cannot spread the disease to others. However, TB disease can develop in the future.
The general symptoms of active TB disease (not latent) include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. If the TB germs have settled in the lungs, symptoms also include coughing, chest pain, and coughing up of blood. Symptoms of TB disease in other parts of the body (brain, kidney, spine, etc.) depend on the area affected.
In most cases, TB is treatable and curable. However, drug resistant strains are becoming more common which is cause for concern. This can occur when patients do not complete the full course of treatment (6-9 months), when the wrong drug or dose has been prescribed, unavailability of drugs, etc.
TB infection can be detected through a TB skin test or a QuantiFERON-TB Gold blood test. A positive test indicates infection which can be treated to prevent active disease.
Visit the following websites for more information about Tuberculosis or contact us at the Health Department.