Most people in the United States have never seen or met another person with tuberculosis (TB). TB is a disease that people in other countries contract and suffer from. Not Americans. Well, that may be changing and what makes this scary is that some forms of tuberculosis are incurable.
Tuberculosis is a disease that is closely associated with poverty. It is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis and it is common in areas of dense population with poor sanitation and poor health care. It is a disease that has plagued mankind for centuries and has killed millions. Today it kills about a million people per year around the world.
The most common form of transmission of TB is when a person with infected lungs sneezes, coughs, or spits, which releases the bacteria into the air that others breathe.
Most people who contract tuberculosis can be effectively treated with an aggressive drug regimen. However, new strains of TB have become resistant to many drugs (extensively resistant TB) and other strains are resistant to all drugs.
Extensively drug resistant TB, known as XDR-TB, is global. It has been reported in 92 countries throughout the world but is probably present in more. Some experts believe TB is present in every country. It is most serious in East Europe, Russia, South Africa, China, and India. India is now reporting cases of incurable TB.
The United State has been affected. There were 72 reported cases of XDR-TB in this country in 2013. With international travel becoming more frequent we can expect more cases of TB in the USA in the future.
It is estimated that one-third of the people in the world have latent TB. That means they have been infected by the bacteria but they have no symptoms of illness and they can not transmit TB to others. There are approximately 1/2 million new cases of XDR-TB worldwide every year and this number can be expected to increase.
The experts believe that the most likely reason that some forms of tuberculosis have become incurable is because patients have not completed their treatment regimens of antibiotics. In these cases, the TB bacteria has be exposed to the antibiotics but not killed, and therefore have had an opportunity to mutate and develop resistance.
Incurable TB is dangerous – incurable – because all known treatment drugs are ineffective and are literally useless.
The best prevention is to avoid known areas of the world where there is a high concentration of TB cases. Other preventative measure can be grouped into a healthly life style – a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco.