Tuberculosis or TB, also known colloquially as consumption, is a virus that most of us don’t think about unless we’re watching a period drama, but it is as virulent today as it has ever been. Thankfully, new treatments help to reverse the disease if it is caught early enough are becoming more common. What is TB and why is it so dangerous?
What Is TB?
TB is a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and it commonly affects the lungs, though it can infect other organs as well. It is spread from an infected individual to another through the air via coughing, sneezing, speaking, and singing. Surprisingly, TB is not spread by kissing or sharing toothbrushes.
Most TB infections are the result of an encounter with an infected individual. In rare cases, the disease can be spread by cows or more specifically, an encounter with the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis, a close cousin of the virus that causes tuberculosis in humans.
Children, elderly individuals, healthcare workers and people with compromised immune systems are among those most at risk for infection. Every year, about nine million people become sick with TB, and of that nine million, nearly 1.5 million will die from the disease. 140,000 of those who fall victim to the disease each year are children.
How Is TB Treated?
A TB infection, when caught early, is most often treated with a combination of four medications: isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide and ethambutol.
Treatment for an active TB infection can last anywhere from six to 12 months. Failure to take the medication correctly can result in a relapse that may be harder to treat because the bacteria itself may develop a resistance to the drugs used in treatment.
TB Treatment for Children
Children who encounter the disease are often treated using the same techniques and smaller doses of adult medication that vary based on the child’s weight. In general, though, there are no TB medication pills for a child, which leaves the parents of an afflicted child to carve up adult-sized pills. Inaccurate doses can lead to toxicity caused by the drugs themselves, exacerbating the original problem.
Thankfully, a solution to that problem may be hitting the market soon. A team composed of the U.S. Government, the TB Alliance and the World Health Organization has created a new line of TB drugs designed especially for children.
These new pills are designed with the proper medication dose and are paired with sweeter flavors and a dissolvable tablet to make them easier to stomach for little patients.
These new drugs will lower the risk of medicine toxicity in children, as well as make it easier for the child to take their entire six-to-12-month course of medication.
Right now, Kenya is being considered as one of the first test markets for the new kid-friendly TB treatments. Kenya is currently listed as one of the top 22 countries for the highest rate of TB infection based on World Health Organization data.
TB is a treatable infection, but many of these potentially treatable cases go undiagnosed each year, often leading to the death of the patient. Up to three million patients go untreated every year, potentially infecting countless others with the disease. With a new and effective treatment available for children who are diagnosed with the disease, the biggest challenge now is to ensure that those children — and all patients — are diagnosed in time to be effectively treated for the disease.
With the advances that we are making in the medical field every day, TB will hopefully soon be one of the diseases that we read about in the history books, like polio or smallpox, because it has been driven to extinction by human ingenuity. First, we have to treat it accordingly, and now we have one more weapon to add to that arsenal.