A Death Toll That Rivals War
WHEN 23-year-old Marilyn lost weight and felt run-down, she guessed it might have something to do with her recent pregnancy. She had a persistent cough too, which she mentioned to her doctor. He said it was an infection of the upper respiratory tract and prescribed antibiotics. Later, when the night sweats began, Marilyn became really worried. She returned to her doctor, who arranged for her to have a chest X ray.
The telltale shadow on the X ray called for urgent action, but Marilyn could not be reached by phone. “The doctor had got through to my mum and told her I was really ill,” said Marilyn. “My mum came to find me and told me to go to the [doctor] immediately. He sent me to the hospital where I had another X-ray and they kept me in.”
Marilyn was shocked to learn that she had tuberculosis (TB). She thought that she would die, but after treatment with anti-TB drugs, she was soon back to normal.
Marilyn’s surprise at having TB is understandable. Until recently, even many health professionals believed that TB had been conquered in the developed world. “I thought it had died with the plague,” said a clinical assistant at a treatment center in London. “But when I came to work here, I found it was alive and well and raging in the inner city.”
In places where TB had vanished, it has returned; where it remained, it has grown worse. Far from being conquered, TB is a killer on a par with war and famine. Consider:
▪ Despite the marvels of modern medicine, over the past hundred years TB has sent about 200 million people to the grave.
▪ Up to two billion people—one third of the world’s population—are already infected with the TB bacillus, a type of bacterium. In addition, another person is infected with TB every second!
▪ In 1995 the number of people with full-blown TB was about 22 million. Nearly three million died, most of them in the developing world.
With potent drugs available to combat TB, why does this disease continue to plague humankind? Will it ever be conquered? Is there any way to protect yourself against it? The following articles will answer these questions.
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New Jersey Medical School—National Tuberculosis Center