We are in 2022 and after a global coronavirus pandemic we quickly forget certain other diseases or various viruses which are nevertheless raging around the globe. Recently it was an epidemic of tuberculosis that was back in the news and we tend not to necessarily know everything about this disease which has already been devastating in the past (and still is today).
1. It was called the white plague
In the 17th century, tuberculosis was known as the White Death, in connection with the other epidemic which ravaged Europe at that time: the Black Death. It was in 1839 that the doctor Johann Lukas Schönlein came up with the name tuberculosis after delivering documented research on the subject and that people began to look for ways to treat it.
2. It is caused by bacteria
It is the bacterium known as Koch’s bacillus (or Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but it’s even less pretty) which is responsible for tuberculosis. This little bitch of Koch’s bacillus can actually spread to many organs and affect them over the years, but usually TB mainly affects the lungs. A person infected with the disease can live without it breaking out, as the immune system can fight the bacteria for several years.
3. It is the infectious disease that causes the most deaths each year
One might think that the infectious disease that causes the most victims in the year is AIDS and yet tuberculosis is indeed the deadliest of all on a global scale. There were nearly 2 million deaths in the year 2000 and 1.5 million in 2015 to give you an idea of just how large the death toll is. At the same time the number of people infected with the bacterium sometimes reaches 10 million per year.
4. It goes through two stages: latent and active
As we said a little earlier, the disease can remain at a latent stage: that is to say that the infected person does not develop tuberculosis even if he lives with the bacteria. But in many cases it passes to the active stage because the immune system does not manage to contain it (in times depending on several factors such as the health of the person) and the first symptoms appear, differing according to the affected area.
5. Pulmonary form symptoms are pretty scary
When the disease develops in the lungs, many symptoms can appear: violent or repeated coughs, weight loss, back pain, you can spit and cough up blood, fever… The disease being infectious, it can therefore be transmitted and this is where tuberculosis represents a danger in terms of its transmission: the bacterium is projected by the repeated coughs and numerous sneezes of the sick and is therefore relatively easily caught.
6. There are several extra-pulmonary forms of the disease
Koch’s bacillus can affect the lungs but also other organs as we said at the beginning of the article. Depending on the part of the body where the bacteria will attack, different symptoms can be triggered. If the brain is affected, you can have memory problems or loss of consciousness, if the ganglia are affected, they can swell and become painful and in some cases you can also see bone deformities that generally affect the spine.
7. In France, it is one of the “notifiable” diseases
It simply means that once diagnosed, it must be declared to the health authorities so that diagnoses can be made very quickly on the people the patient has met. The idea is to quickly contain any form of contagion and prevent it from spreading. Several types of screening tests exist and if someone is diagnosed with the latent form, it can be treated quickly.
8. Processing takes a long time
A tuberculosis patient can follow a course of taking antibiotics which generally lasts six months but does not always require hospitalization (at least not throughout the treatment). The antibiotics will be varied and it is essential to continue the treatment until the end to prevent the bacteria from developing resistance following premature discontinuation and resumption of treatment after interruption. You have to do what the doctors say, like the rest of the time.
9. It is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population carries the bacteria
The estimate is huge, yet it seems to fluctuate between a quarter and a third of the population depending on the year and the polls. These figures are explained mainly by the fact that the bacterium is spreading very quickly in around thirty countries which are, unsurprisingly, underdeveloped countries or with insufficient health infrastructures to stop contamination.
10. Two-thirds of global cases of the disease are present in eight countries
Nearly two-thirds of the world’s TB cases are found in eight major affected countries: Nigeria, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Bangladesh and India, which has the most case in the world. Overall countries where bad things often happen including some of the unluckiest countries.
11. The disease is curable but still causes a lot of deaths
If we could see a reduction in the mortality rate in the early 2000s, the disease continues to spread and kill a significant number of people. In the most affected countries, there are many factors that can explain this: lack of medical care or infrastructure, malnutrition, wars or famine (the number of cases is growing in the affected countries), precariousness, extreme poverty and promiscuity; in short, nothing that helps the whole mess for countries that do not have the means to counter the epidemic.
12. An estimated 66 million lives were saved between 2000 and 2020
Since the arrival of a much more precise screening method, it is estimated that nearly 66 million lives have been saved in twenty years. Care has also evolved but has mainly been widespread in the most affected countries. Overall there is still work when you see the number of deaths per year, but it’s already a good step forward.