World TB Day

March 24 Marks the Anniversary of the Discovery of Tuberculosis Bacteria

Today marks the anniversary of Robert Koch's presentation of the tuberculosis bacillus to his peers in Berlin in 1882. What was once the leading cause of death in the US, the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria infected 17,528 people in the US in 1999. This is a sizable decrease from the 30,145 cases reported in 1977. The number of cases increased briefly during the late `80s and early `90s, however. Redirected governmental resources in 1993 helped curb the increasing numbers.

TB is spread via the air from person to person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 10-15 million Americans are infected with the TB bacteria. They are simply carriers though, only approximately 10% will actually develop the disease.

Even though case numbers are down, the CDC would like to eliminate the disease completely. They believe it can be done through the following efforts: expand the use of directly observed therapy (DOT), fight the disease globally, and continue to develop drugs and vaccines. If people who are infected by the disease do not combat it with regular treatment, they can develop new strains of the disease that consequently require new drugs. By expanding the use of DOT, healthcare facilities can ensure treatment is received. Since TB is common in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, healthcare employees must also look beyond the US and set their goal at eliminating the disease around the world. To do so, they will need the assistance of researchers to create drugs to treat new strains of the infection and create a vaccine to prevent the further spread of the disease.