Tuberculosis is at all-time national low but still ongoing

  • Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 11:34 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, March 31, 2014 8:08 a.m.

Tuberculosis has invaded the world since 1882 and still remains strong today.

This illness starts with the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a connection discovered by German scientist Dr. Robert Koch in 1882.

The bacteria was killing one out of every seven people around the United States and Europe.

Though still considered one of the world’s top-killers, cases reported in the United States have recently seen some decline.

“The latest national surveillance data shows that tuberculosis has reached an all-time low in the United States,” according to Donnica Smalls from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, more than 110 cases were reported throughout South Carolina counties, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Only one of those cases reportedly came from Aiken County.

The bacteria can be spread through the air, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including coughing, sneezing or even talking.

“It is not spread by shaking someone’s hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminded.

Tuberculosis mainly affects a person’s lungs but can spread throughout the person’s body. Tests such as the tuberculosis skin test and tuberculosis blood tests can be run to determine if a person is infected.

If you test positive to any of these tests, your doctor might follow up with another exam, which will determine if you have a latent tuberculosis infection or the tuberculosis disease itself.

“Not everyone infected with the tuberculosis bacteria becomes sick,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People in this situation are diagnosed with the latent tuberculosis infection, which means they have the bacteria but not the disease.

“They do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms and cannot spread the bacteria to others,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Their bodies were able to fight back against the disease.

However, if the bacteria does become active, the infected person can then develop tuberculosis. When this happens, it is often because the illness has overcome the body’s immune system.

The onset can occur soon after the initial infection or years later, depending on the strength of the immune system.

Signs of tuberculosis include chest pain, coughing up blood, weight loss, chills and sweating at night.

Tuberculosis can be fatal if left untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Treatment methods include taking various medicines for at least 6 to 9 months.

Medicine is also given to those diagnosed with latent tuberculosis infection to help prevent the infection from developing into the disease.

Those who inject illegal drugs or have ailments like the human immunodeficiency virus, diabetes or certain types of cancer are reportedly more prone to the developing tuberculosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This demographic also includes infants and young children as well as elderly adults.

Vaccines can be given, if the person qualifies.

“The BCG vaccine is not generally recommended for use in the United States because of the low risk of infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the variable effectiveness of the vaccine against adult pulmonary tuberculosis and the vaccine’s potential interference with tuberculin skin test reactivity,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is recommended to report to your doctor any symptoms, as well as whether you have been in contact with someone infected with tuberculosis.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/tb/ or www.scdhec.gov/health/disease/tb/.

Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.

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