Announcements, events, and celebrations regarding World Tuberculosis Day are here, but there are many who think that having a cure for 50 years and still having one million and a half people die from tuberculosis (TB) every year, is nothing to celebrate.
According to the World Health Organization, 1.4 million deaths worldwide were reported in 2010 from tuberculosis, along with 8.8 million new cases of a disease that is thought to be under control and many times considered “a thing of the past.”
In honor of Dr. Robert Koch, who discovered the cause of TB in March 24 1882, this day has become the official World TB Day.
“We don’t have much to celebrate,” said Eva M. Moya, professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has worked in TB research, social work and advocacy in the border region since 2005.
“Yes, nationally speaking our prevalence has decreased by a little, which is good news, but the number of cases has increased, primarily among the foreign-born communities,” she added.
In the United Sates there were 11,182 reported TB cases in 2010 and 60 percent of them were among foreign-born persons, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2010 report shows Asians had the highest rates with 22.4 cases per 100,000 persons, followed by Native Hawaiians with 20.8, Blacks with 7.0 and 6.5 cases in the Latino community.
Lack of knowledge about the disease puts everyone at a higher risk. Many times the symptoms can be mistaken for a cold, bronchitis or pneumonia.
This was the case of Rachel Orduño, Social Work graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso, who was misdiagnosed and treated for everything but TB for three years.
“I began with the most common symptoms. Continuous cough, weight loss due to lack of appetite, sweating at night and then I begin having trouble breathing,” Orduño said.
Although Orduño is completely healed today, a prompt and correct diagnosis would have made a big difference. During the three years of her misdiagnosis, the infection was allowed to progress. She had to be quarantined at the beginning of her treatment, which lasted nine months instead of the usual 6 months, and she also infected seven of her family members including her three year-old niece. All of them received proper treatment and are completely cured today, according to Orduño.
The CDC estimates that a person with active TB can infect from ten to fifteen people per year. The victims are usually those closest to the person because the bacteria can only be spread through the air.
When a person with TB coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings, the bacteria particles are left in the air. The bacteria can survive in the air for several hours and all it takes is for another person to breath in the particles to become infected.
“If you breathe you are at risk. So those of us that breathe better be educated and informed,” Moya said. “Once you don’t breathe then you can stop caring.”
Education about the way TB is transmitted, symptoms, and treatment options can protect entire communities from contracting the disease. Today organizations such as the Stop TB Partnership and SOLUCION TB are providing support and making it easier for anyone to become informed and spread the word.
No one is exempt from contracting TB, or from being exposed to it, and awareness can prevent the disease and the stigma that comes along with it. Social stigma is what many times prevents a person from seeking treatment or sharing their experience with the community.
Under served communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring the latest tests and treatment. Although the regular TB treatment costs about $10 per person, additional tests for stronger TB strands, known as Multi-Drug-Resistant (MDR TB), hospitalization and stronger treatments, can become expensive.
“Now we have new techniques, which is wonderful, but those techniques are primarily privileged for those who can pay for them,” Moya said. “I don’t celebrate that we have great techniques. I celebrate that these techniques would be made available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. When we are doing that I’ll be the first one to say ‘Adelante.’”