World TB day hopes to raise awareness of global epidemic
Tuberculosis has plagued man for thousands of years. In fact, human remains dating from the Neolithic era, over 9,000 years ago, have evidence of the disease.
Today, it's often thought of as an intangible threat, the stuff of movies. But the reality is, even in 2013, it's still a very real danger.
An estimated 9 million people globally contract TB each year, while more than a million and a half die from it – the equivalent of three people worldwide every minute. The World Health Organization says it's one of the world's top infectious killers. However, if given the proper medications, it can be easily treated.
The disease is easily spread. Germs are passed through the air when someone infected with it sneezes, speaks or coughs. Those nearby can then contract the disease simply by breathing those expelled germs into their own lungs.
With such potency, several organizations, including the World Health Organization, have joined forces to create the Stop TB Partnership, which marks March 24 as World TB Day.
Why today? It honors the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. At the time, the disease killed one out of every seven people. With his discovery, the path toward diagnosing and curing TB began.
The primary goal of the Stop TB Partnership is to help people who are vulnerable to TB and ensure treatment is available to all who need it. They also work toward research and development for new medications and vaccinations, while working on solutions for drug-resistant strains of the bacteria that causes TB. The Stop TB Partnership has a simple vision: a TB-free world.
But, according to their web site, there are a variety of challenges ahead. Medications to treat TB have not changed in decades. And, a very drug-resistant strain has developed, known as XDR-TB, which is sometimes impossible to cure.
The disease can take a huge toll on its victims. Treatment usually takes about six months, during which time victims are too ill to work – a situation that takes both a physical and financial toll on families.
However, there are some bright spots. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people falling ill will tuberculosis is declining. In fact, the TB death rate has dropped 41 percent since 1990.
In the United States in 2011, about 10,500 cases of TB were reported, which was a decline from the previous year, and the lowest since national reporting began in 1953, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This good news, however, came after a resurgence of the disease in the U.S. between 1985 and 1992, according to the CDC. Renewed efforts for control and treatment brought us back to where we are now, but it's still an issue, especially for minorities. In fact, the CDC notes that in 2010, 84 percent of new cases were in minority groups.
It's essential that research and treatment efforts continue across the globe to fight TB. Learn more about the movement and ways to get involved at www.stoptb.org.