Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most common and deadliest diseases, killing millions worldwide. Tuesday, March 24 is World TB Day, and state health officials are taking the opportunity to remind the public TB is still a serious health threat.
“While the overall number of new TB cases in Indiana has dropped in the last year, certain counties are seeing significant numbers of new cases,” says Loren Robertson, assistant commissioner, Public Health and Preparedness Commission at the Indiana State Department of Health. “It is a reminder we must continue our efforts and dedication to eliminating the threat of TB for all Hoosiers.”
In 2008, there were 118 active cases and nine TB-related deaths in Indiana, with 50 percent of the state’s cases in the three most populated counties: Allen, Lake and Marion. In 2007 there were 129 active TB cases in the state.
On March 24, 1882, German physician Robert Koch discovered the bacteria causing TB. More than 100 years later, state health officials say TB is not a disease of the past, nor does it only affect impoverished countries.
“TB remains one of the leading causes of death among infectious diseases worldwide, even though it is readily treatable and preventable,” says Robertson. “Counties, states, and nations need to work together to eliminate TB. That is why the theme of this year’s World TB Day is ‘Partnerships for TB Elimination.'”
TB is spread through the air from person to person when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. Antibiotics are available that can cure TB disease and prevent latent TB infection from developing into an active disease. Health officials say ensuring patients with the active TB disease complete treatment is a vital aspect of TB control.
An estimated two billion people worldwide are infected with the bacteria that cause TB, although most people with latent TB infection never develop the disease. In these people, the TB bacteria can remain dormant for a lifetime without causing problems. However in others, especially those with weak immune systems, the bacteria can become active and cause TB anywhere in the body.
“Although evidence suggests the nation is progressing towards elimination, many challenges remain, particularly the increasing impact of the global TB epidemic on the United States, the continued threat of multi-drug resistant TB, and the interaction between HIV infection and TB,” says Robertson.