Many people think that Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease of the past - an illness that no longer threatens us today. However, with one third of the world's population estimated to be infected with the bacteria that cause TB, this ancient disease is very much still with us today. Among infectious diseases, TB remains a leading killer in the world, with about 2 million TB-related deaths each year or more than 5,000 deaths every day.
TB bacteria are spread through the air from one person to another when a person with active TB disease coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and develop TB infection and disease. Many people who have TB infection never develop the TB disease. But the bacteria can become active and cause TB disease over time, often becoming active decades after initial infection.
Once infected, given a normal immune system, there is 10% chance of developing active TB disease during one's life. Any condition that suppresses the immune system will increase the chances of activation of TB infection. Simply getting older is a major cause of TB activation as well as common cancers, steroid meds, low body weight, and HIV infection.
Binghamton University (BU) has the responsibility to protect its population from many contagious diseases. Active TB disease does appear in this population on occasion. The Broome County Health Department assists BU with testing, evaluation and treating TB.
TB Testing is done using the Mantoux method, where a small amount of protein derived from TB bacillus is placed just under the skin surface. Two or three days later a trained person measures any resulting reaction. Those with a positive reaction (10mm or more) need to have a chest x-ray to determine if they are likely to have latent TB infection or TB disease. If you have any evidence of a previous positive test, please tell us.
Many people had the “BCG vaccine” when they were young and were told it protected them from TB. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If the vaccine were effective, TB would not be the problem it is today. The fact that TB is spreading rapidly throughout the world, especially in those countries that depend on the BCG vaccine, is proof enough that BCG does not protect against getting infected or developing TB disease. Most of those vaccinated do not have any skin test reaction by the age of 18. Therefore a positive reaction is taken as serious evidence that that person in infected.
In the USA, we have been successful in controlling TB. This is due to curing everyone who develops active disease and encouraging as many people as possible to cure their underlying latent TB infection. It is much easier and safer to treat the latent TB infection. For younger people, the course of medicine is tolerated easily and the benefit is the elimination of the TB bacteria from your body, and significantly reducing your risk of disease for the rest of your life.
More information on TB in English and 26 different languages can be found the web site: http://www.gobroomecounty.com/clinics/tb/lang
Last Updated: 2/4/13