Tuberculosis Health Facts
The World Health Organization reports that almost 2 billion people (a third of the world’s entire population) have been exposed to Tuberculosis, with 8 million becoming ill and 2 million dying each year. Some 80% of Tuberculosis-related deaths occur in developing countries, where it accounts for 26% of preventable deaths.
Not surprisingly, Tuberculosis is the number one infectious killer of women of reproductive age worldwide as well as the main cause of death among HIV positive patients.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Although generally known to attack the lungs, it can also affect various other parts of the body, though these types are normally not infectious.
Tuberculosis spreads via droplets passed on when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include persistent cough, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, night sweat, loss of appetite, chest pain, fever, chills and coughing up blood or sputum.
Those with weakened immune systems due to other illnesses like AIDS, diabetes, leukemia and kidney disease are particularly susceptible to Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was once the main cause of death in the United States.
Certain infected individuals never feel sick or display any symptoms, neither do they infect others. This condition is known as ‘latent tuberculosis infection’. But these individuals may sometimes develop active infections later in life. The good news is that both active and latent infections are treatable – treatment of the latter in particular prevents onset of the illness.
Majority of medications to combat Tuberculosis were developed in the 1940s, but efforts to manage this disease in the US diminished during the 1970s and early 1980s partially due to the emergence of several resistant strains of the bacteria as well as the eradication of many public health facilities. This in turn led to a sudden surge in the number of cases between 1985 and 1992. Although it may seem that this is a problem of the past, the 14,000 cases reported in the US in 2005 contradict such opinions. The increasing number of HIV cases being reported worldwide may have contributed to the sudden surge in Tuberculosis cases as well.
As previously mentioned, although Tuberculosis is normally associated with the lungs, it can can spread to other parts of the body like the genitourinary system, central nervous system, circulatory system, joints, skin and bones.
Tuberculosis of the bone, or Osteal Tuberculosis, most commonly occurs in the spine and generally affects children in poorer communities. It causes spinal deformities and compression fractures. On the other hand, Tuberculosis Peritonitis occurs when Tuberculosis-causing bacteria affect the inner and outer lining of the intestinal wall and produce fluid, leading to distension and pain.
When Mycobacterium tuberculosis affects the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges), the result is Tuberculosis Meningitis, an extremely serious and potentially fatal condition. Moreover, it is often mistaken for a brain tumor due to its mass-like appearance. Most patients have symptoms resembling those of a stroke, such as drowsiness, headache and in severe cases, coma.
Other forms of Tuberculosis include Renal Tuberculosis, where white blood cells are found in the urine. This form of Tuberculosis can also affect the reproductive system.
You may be familiar with the term BCG or, as it is scientifically known, bacillus of calmette and guerin. BCG was the first vaccine developed against Tuberculosis (at Pasteur Institute in France between 1905 and 1921). However, large scale vaccinations were only introduced after World War II. An important point to note is that although BCG can minimize Tuberculosis transmission, it does not come with a 100% guarantee as it is not as effective in countries with a lower prevalence of Mycobacterium.
The BCG is generally given to infants and children in countries where Tuberculosis is prevalent. For example in South Africa, which has the highest incidence of Tuberculosis in the world, BCG is given to all children under three years of age.
Adrenal Tuberculosis can reduce the body’s ability to increase steroid production during stressful times, often leading to weakness and collapse.