TB Today: A Global Emergency

Tuberculosis is an illness many people might associate with the past.  It is commonly perceived as a disease that reached its peak in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but declined with the discovery of antibiotic medications in the 1950s.  Although for many parts of the world this is true, tuberculosis has not been eradicated; in fact, much of the world is experiencing epidemic rates of tuberculosis and, even more worryingly, forms which are untreatable due to drug resistance.  In this era of globalization this trend should concern us all.

TB is often called a ‘social disease’, one that occurs most frequently among groups of people from defined socio-economic positions.  Primarily a disease spread by air-borne droplets of bacteria, TB is transmitted most easily between people in frequent contact with each other in relatively confined spaces; over-crowded and poorly-ventilated living spaces, frequently associated with the economically marginalized, exacerbate TB transmission.  Likewise, poor diet decreases overall health and increases the chance that the immune system will be unable to fight off a TB infection.  Lack of access to health-care can lead to delayed diagnosis and inconsistent treatment, which enable the disease to continue to spread. 

Such conditions exist not only in the so-called ‘developing world’.  TB is both a global and a national concern.