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One out of every three of us have TB

My friends always tend to disbelieve me (in general, but also specifically) when I tell them that one out of every three people on the planet has been infected with tuberculosis.

So where are all these consumptive folks, they might say? — This is assuming they know that TB used to be called consumption because of the way it “consumed” and withered the body as the infection progressed.

They’re everywhere, I’d reply, including right here in wealthy and smug Seattle.

Seattle, in fact, has one of the worst problems with TB in the nation. But it’s always here, managed by the public health folks, so it’s hardly news.

The news is that it’s World TB Day.

Compared to the other big killers out there like AIDS and malaria, this seems to be about as newsworthy as saying it’s World Schistosomiasis Day or World Psoriasis Day.

This threat should get much, much more attention.

I don’t quite understand why, but TB, despite being one of the world’s leading killer diseases, is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of global health (for you confused youngsters, go watch the movie Caddyshack or read up on “I don’t get no respect.”)

Most of those infected don’t progress to full-blown disease, but many do and an estimated 1.7 million people die every from TB. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 9 million are newly infected every year.

Of greatest concern lately, drug-resistant TB is on the rise worldwide. If the trend is unchecked without better access to diagnosis and treatment, the numbers of difficult-to-treat infections could expand to reach two million cases of drug-resistant TB by the year 2015.

A better vaccine is definitely needed, but that takes time — to discover, develop and then distribute globally. We have lots of vaccines that can prevent many diseases but which don’t reach the poorest and most at risk today. Aggressive diagnosis and treatment actions must be taken now to stop the spread.

Other TB news of interest:

BBC: A big problem is misdiagnosis

Nature: A new test promises to improve testing, making it faster and more accurate

WHO: Donors and governments need to fund expanded treatment, testing

Times of India: One-fifth the world’s TB cases are in India

Global Health Magazine: Time to truly integrate HIV and TB care

StopTB: The global plan


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] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.