Dr. Robert Koch discovered the bacteria that causes tuberculosis 137 years ago and healthcare entities have been trying to eradicate the disease ever since. But tuberculosis, or TB, remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases. One third of the world’s population is infected with it. In 2017, about 10.4 million people around the world became sick with TB disease and there were about 1.7 million TB-related deaths worldwide.
The rate of active tuberculosis continues to decline in the United States. And efforts toward its eradication continue in New Jersey, where 291 residents were diagnosed with active TB last year. “This represents a 70 percent decrease in cases since TB peaked in New Jersey in 1992,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. There were 984 cases in 1992.
TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is spread from person to person through the air. It typically affects the lungs but can affect the brain, kidneys and spine. Babies, young adults, the elderly, those with HIV and those with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of contracting the disease, as well as people with cancer, severe kidney disease, low body weight and those who have undergone an organ transplant.
There are two types of TB conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: latent TB infection and TB disease. TB bacteria can live in the body without making one sick, thus “latent” TB infection. “In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. People with latent TB infection do not feel sick, do not have any symptoms, and cannot spread TB bacteria to others.”
It’s when TB bacteria become active in the body and multiply, that a person goes from having latent TB infection to being sick with “active” TB disease.
For more information about New Jersey’s TB program and information about the disease, click on this link.