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TB Unmasked: Healthcare Workers and the Global Tuberculosis Epidemic
Mar21

TB Unmasked: Healthcare Workers and the Global Tuberculosis Epidemic

By Roberta Attanasio World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, is approaching — it reminds us that tuberculosis (TB) is a massive global health problem. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases. It is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. In 2013, an estimated 9.0 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from it — mostly in developing countries. However, TB is curable and preventable. The WHO estimates that 37 million lives were saved between 2000 and 2013 through effective diagnosis and treatment. Despite the many saved lives, the death toll is still unacceptably high. Last month, Anthony S. Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Progress is being made in the international fight against TB; however, the disease remains entrenched in many countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa.”   TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It spreads from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB bacteria into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these bacteria to become infected. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB — people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot spread the bacteria. When a person develops active TB (disease), the symptoms (cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss and others) may be mild for many months. For this reason, people with active TB may delay seeking care, and bacteria can spread to others. People ill with TB can infect up to 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, up to two thirds of people ill with TB will die. Unfortunately, the vaccine currently available to prevent TB has limited efficacy. Healthcare workers who come into contact with patients affected by active TB are at considerable risk of contracting the disease. Indeed, every day, millions of healthcare workers around the world put their lives at risk as they combat tuberculosis. They’re vulnerable to TB exposure and infection. And they deserve to be protected. Therefore, Aeras — a nonprofit biotech advancing the development of new tuberculosis vaccines for the world — launched the TB UNMASKED campaign on September 24, 2014. TB UNMASKED supports and empowers people who put themselves at risk of tuberculosis infection through caring for patients, and gives healthcare workers on the front lines of the TB epidemic the opportunity to tell their stories using photographs,...

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Tuberculosis in China: A Success Story for a Global Problem
Mar22

Tuberculosis in China: A Success Story for a Global Problem

By Roberta Attanasio Sometimes called “The Silent Killer”, tuberculosis, or TB for short, is a huge worldwide public health problem — according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one-third of the human population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the micro-organism that causes the disease. In 2012, an estimated 8.6 million people developed TB and 1.3 million died from it. The number of TB deaths is unacceptably large, given that most are preventable — indeed, a cure for TB, consisting of a six-month course of drugs, has been available for more than 50 years. If treatment is incomplete, TB can come back, often in a form resistant to treatment. Years ago, the WHO developed a strategy known as “directly observed, short-course treatment”, or DOTS, to make sure that people with TB take their medicines. The strategy requires government support and is based on a standardized drug treatment monitored by health care workers. Here is an explanation of how it works (in the words of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): “If you get DOT, you will meet with a health care worker every day or several times a week. You will meet at a place you both agree on. This can be the TB clinic, your home or work, or any other convenient location. You will take your medicines at this place while the health care worker watches. DOT helps in several ways. The health care worker can help you remember to take your medicines and complete your treatment. This means you will get well as soon as possible. With DOT, you may need to take medicines only 2 or 3 times each week instead of every day. The health care worker will make sure that the medicines are working as they should. This person will also watch for side effects and answer questions you have about TB.” China accounts for a large portion of the global cases of TB. In 2010, China had an estimated 1 million new cases, accounting for 11% of global tuberculosis incidence. However, during the past two decades, China scaled up a DOTS-based control program for TB —  in the 1990s, the program covered half the population and, after 2000, the entire population. Now, researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing show that this program has been very effective — in 20 years, China more than halved its tuberculosis prevalence, with cases decreasing from 170 per 100,000 in 1990, to 59 per 100,000 in 2010. The researchers published their findings in the journal The Lancet on March 18, 2014. The findings suggest that, if the strategy is adopted worldwide, tuberculosis can be controlled. Dr, Yu Wang, one of the researchers involved in the study, said...

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