Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is one of the worlds deadliest diseases.
Each year, nearly 9 million people around the world become sick with TB. Each year, there are almost 2 million TB-related deaths worldwide. Thats more than 4,000 people each day.
TB is the leading killer of people who are HIV infected.
Some people are surprised to hear that we still see patients with TB in Thurston County. TB is airborne; people become infected because they have to breathe to live.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the nation let its guard down and TB control efforts were neglected. Many states and cities redirected TB prevention and control funds to other programs. But along with the emergence of HIV, TB cases in the United States started to rise again.
However, because of a renewed dedicated effort, we have seen a steady decline since 1992. We are now at an all-time low in the number of people being diagnosed with TB disease.
TB is curable for most people, but there are some special challenges continuing to plague us. Drug resistance poses a serious threat to our ability to treat and control TB, both in the United States and abroad. Drug-resistant TB is extremely difficult and costly to treat, so those with drug-resistant TB are more likely to die of TB than those with drug-susceptible TB.
More than 11 million people in the United States alone (about 4 percent) have what is called latent TB infection. This means the TB germ is present, but TB disease has not developed. These people are not sick and they are not contagious. About 5 to 10 percent of people with latent TB infection will develop TB disease if not treated. This means 550,000 to 1.1 million people who will develop TB at some time in their life, unless they receive adequate treatment for latent TB infection.
Because HIV weakens the immune system, persons with both latent TB infection and HIV infection have a very high risk of actually developing TB disease.
Our success at combatting TB makes us vulnerable to complacency and neglect. But it also gives us an opportunity to eliminate TB in this country. Today we need to talk about what is needed to finish the job and eliminate TB here.
We need to strengthen TB control, treatment, and prevention.
We need research to stop the progression from latent infection to contagious disease. For example, we need to develop more effective methods of testing for latent TB infection, better drugs to treat latent TB infection, and an effective TB vaccine.
We need to take TB elimination seriously. Worldwide control of TB is in the best interest of the United States.
Now is the time to take decisive actions, beyond our current efforts, to ensure that we reach this attainable goal.
Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or email@example.com.