Expect more stories of drug-resistant and deadly TB strikes in the US

tuberculosis patient, El Salvador
tuberculosis patient, El Salvador

With the rise of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis worldwide, we can unfortunately expect to see more of these stories about TB afflicting Americans.

The silver lining is that this may bring more public attention to this somewhat neglected yet widespread infectious disease.

It still surprises people that TB infects one of every three people on the planet. Tuberculosis kills an estimated 1.4 million people every year, yet it seldom gets the attention of other such killers.

NPR’s Richard Knox did an excellent, tragic story today on a Boston family’s struggle with TB noting how easy it is to miss a chronic, low-level infection — which can still spread to others — until it blooms into a more severe disease.  In the first of a four-part series on TB, this is the story of a woman, Judy Williams, who went undiagnosed for a long time and, once diagnosed, failed to do what it takes to truly combat it.

Williams died from her TB, in one of the world’s most advanced centers of medical excellence.

That’s one of the hallmarks of TB: Most people who get infected go a lifetime without ever getting active, contagious disease. But if left untreated, when something happens to lower their immunity, the infection can roar to life, attacking lungs, kidneys, spine, brain or other parts of the body.

Another excellent series of stories on the threat of TB has been produced not by a news organization but by a non-profit biomedical firm Aeras. working on a better TB vaccine. As Scientific American notes, Aeras “has put together a team to create an educational (also four-part) series of videos, which are available in its entirety for screenings, to raise awareness about the re-emerging infectiousness and virulence of pulmonary TB across the world.”

Here’s the first installment, featuring the story of a young middle-class woman in Nashville, Tennessee, Natalie Skipper, who acquired multi-drug resistant TB and faced a difficult battle for survival:

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • David Bryden

    Our so-called leaders don’t get how serious this is. Scientists are developing much faster acting TB medication, but the sequester is pulling the plug on just as the CDC-funded research reaches a crucial, final phase! And for FY 14 Obama has really let us down. He proposes a massive 20% cut in TB funding via USAID, which would hurt TB drug research and aid to countries to help them stop drug resistant TB. We have to insist to Congress and the White House that if they cut TB funds they are playing with fire!

  • Teresa

    TB Photovoice, http://www.tbphotovoice, a nonprofit based in Snohomish County Washington, is also documenting/recording the stories of persons impacted by TB. Their project is a year long exploration into the historical and present day realities of TB from the perspective of those affected throughout the generations. One participant, who was homeless in the 1990s, reflected on her TB experience and stated that there is no way she would be alive if it wasn’t for the support of the Snohomish Health District. The focus is Snohomish and King County, but anyone from around the globe can share their story on their site.Cuts in funding globally and locally will have consequences.