TB: A Crisis?
Every year, before I volunteer at the hospital, I have to get a TB vaccination. It’s a relatively small needle, and the vaccine remains in a bubble under the surface of my skin. I’m always told that if there’s any redness, itching, or swelling I’m to call the nurse immediately. I’ve never had a reaction luckily. And most of the employees at the hospital haven’t either. The Employee Health nurse performs TB skin testing once every year, typically during the summer, to ensure that employees are protected and safe. I never thought much about it until I began reading online about the serious crisis that TB presents in countries where vaccines are unavailable or too expensive for the average person to purchase.
TB stands for tuberculosis, which is typically pulmonary, or starts in the lungs. It is incredibly contagious, and any coughing, spitting, sneezing, or any other transfer through saliva can instantly be infectious. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 1/3 of the world’s population is currently infected with TB. This is not to say that the TB is active inside the body. Sometimes TB can lay dormant in the body for years and years, partly because of the human body’s advanced immune system. But as soon as someone’s immune system is down, due to illness, the TB infection can become active. It’s estimated, by the WHO, that people who have active TB can affect 10-15 people a year. This is staggering when you start thinking about it – it’s an utter snowball effect. But with such a simple vaccine, why are there still so many cases of it around the world?
Most new TB cases occur in Southeast Asia and Africa, and almost 2 million people, in 2009, died from pulmonary tuberculosis. There is a startling correlation between HIV-AIDS and TB. People with the existing HIV condition are many, many times more likely to develop an active case of TB than people who do not have HIV, due to an extremely debilitated immune system. There are currently organizations in place to help people with both diseases to deal with them and try to prevent others from contracting TB.
The vaccination everyone takes today to prevent TB actually was only invented about 50 years ago, but already drug-resistant strains of the disease have begun to come to light. Eliminating all other factors, there is one drug-resistant strain which has the ability to be lethal, and includes an incredibly expensive regimen of chemotherapy to overcome, money which most people don’t have.
As one government site lists,
“Your risk of contracting TB increases if you:
- Are in frequent contact with people who have TB
- Have poor nutrition
- Live in crowded or unsanitary living conditions”
Now it could be just me, but those descriptions are common in third-world country situations, as is common in poverty-stricken areas in Africa and Asia. And like in previous posts when I have discussed health issues, it’s a bottomless trap, especially with the high-infection rates that TB entails. I think a way to begin to solve the TB snowball effect is by increasing the amount of organizations and health groups who can administer vaccines, and increasing awareness in general.
Team 2: Servant Scholars