Infectious disease: TB a real threat

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Infectious disease: TB a real threat

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are considered by many as a blaring prophecy. In a more practical approach, since this is a practical e-journal, they are about the presence of history in everyday life. The Four Horsemen surge and disappear like the seasons. The only thing regular about their chaotic galloping is their cyclical appearance: War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. The third horseman has been pretty busy throughout the history of man. Epidemics have crumbled empires, defeated armies, and changed the way we live. Small pox conquered the New World, Syphilis introduced a menace to sex and people to the wig, and plague defeated feudalism.

Today, while we often are concerned with AIDS, we are missing an old but rejuvenated killer: Tuberculosis. The first two horsemen throughout history have paved the way for the latter two. Once civil society, order, health, and sanitation are gone, wiped out by the action of the first two horsemen, pestilence and death are there….

Recently a Ukrainian émigré coughed and hacked his way across the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to the other passengers, the man was sick with active tuberculosis. It wasn’t just any strain of tuberculosis, but a strain that was resistant to six anti-tuberculosis drugs. Several days after the flight the man went to his doctor and was diagnosed with TB. The health authorities were alerted and contacted all of the passengers on the airplane. 14 of the 40 tested positive to TB. That is a staggering 35% rate of infection!

The heart of the problem lies within the former Soviet Republics. The meltdown is playing a direct role in the spread of TB and in breeding multi-drug-resistant TB. While doctors are aware of the problem, budget cuts (and lack of budgets) force them to stop treating patients before the TB bacterium is eradicated. The prisons of the former Soviets are the primary breeding ground for these multi-drug-resistant TB strains. With one of the largest percentages of population being held in unsanitary and closely confined prisons, TB is quickly and easily transmitted. According the CDC, it is probably the worst situation for the breeding and transmission of multi-drug-resistant strains of TB ever documented.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis was identified over 100 years ago as the bacterium that causes TB. TB settles in the lungs and can move to the brain. liver, kidneys and spine. On average, one infected person will infect 10 other people and the bacterium can stay latent, not producing any visible symptoms for quite some time. When an infected person coughs, little droplets of moisture are expelled. These droplets contain the bacteria and the infection spreads when another person inhales the droplet.

TB now ranks as the world’s most deadly infectious disease, based on killing almost 3 million people annually. According to the World Health Organization 70 million people will die because of TB by 2020. The places of greatest infection are those places where the first two horsemen have appeared. Former Soviet Republics, Indonesia, Thailand, China, all of sub- Saharan Africa, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

So, what do you do to protect yourself and those under your care? When flying on an aircraft, sit toward the front of the aircraft and carry disposable dust masks. If anyone on the aircraft continues to cough or sneeze, wear the dust masks. When you remove the dust mask, avoid touching the face of the mask. They look funny and you’ll feel funny – enjoy the humor and your health. Wash your hands often especially before mealtime. Also wash your hands before and after you use the rest room, you don’t want infected hands touching your private parts – well do you? These rules of safety are true for any gathering, whether it be on an airplane, meeting hall, train or public place. Nothing is foolproof and a dust mask is a poor substitute for getting the heck out of the area. Also, if you think you or your party have been exposed, seek medical attention immediately.

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