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Germany

TB Still a Giant Killer Disease

On the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day, the WHO has published some sobering facts on the disease. TB remains the top cause of avoidable death in poor countries. Even the industrialised world is not immune to it.

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TB bacteria are expelled out of the lungs during the unmistakable racking cough

On March 24, 1882 German physicist and bacteriologist Robert Koch stunned the scientific world by announcing in Berlin that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus.

At that time tuberculosis or TB was raging in Europe and the Americas and killed one out of every seven people.

Koch's path-breaking discovery paved the way for developing more advanced ways of diagnosing, curing and eventually even eliminating the dreaded killer.

But more than a 100 years after the revolutionary discovery, the world is far from safe from the clutches of the killer disease.

The WHO suggests that in many ways, the tuberculosis epidemic is worse now than ever before. It remains the world's leading infectious killer of young children and adults.

The emergence of new multi-drug resistant strains of TB also threatens to return the disease to the pre-antibiotic era.

Definite link between poverty and TB

On the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a new report which highlights the link between the disease and poverty.

The WHO estimates that tuberculosis kills an estimated two million people a year, 95 percent of whom come from developing countries.

Factors such as Poverty, migration, war, malnutrition and the HIV epidemic make a person more vulnerable to the disease. TB remains the most frequent cause for death of AIDS patients.

Following those statistics, it's not difficult to understand why Zimbabwe for instance has six times more cases of TB than it did 20 years ago. According to the WHO, TB kills 1000, mostly poor, productive workers daily in East Asia and the Pacific.

Just breathing in the same air could lead to the disease

The disease is spread when infected people cough, sneeze or talk. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and develop latent TB infection.

Many people who have latent TB infection might never develop the disease. But others, especially children and people with weakened immune systems are easily susceptible to the bacteria.

Left untreated, each person with active TB will infect on average between 10 and 15 people every year.

It's not just poverty and undernourishment that's undermining the battle against the disease, but also a serious lack of funding according to the WHO.

TB campaign director of the WHO, JW Lee says that a shortfall of almost $ 3 million a year is slowing down the rate of expanding diagnosis and treatment services.

Public health officials estimate that $ 1 billion a year will be needed to treat patients and control the TB epidemic in 22 countries that now account for 80 percent of the world's TB burden.

Industrialised countries not safe from it

Contrary to popular belief, tuberculosis is not just limited to poorer countries. Even in industrialised western countries such as Germany, TB remains a serious challenge as drug-resistant strains show up.

The German Central Committee to Fight Tuberculosis has published a study which says that in the year 2000, 9,064 new cases of tuberculosis were registered.

Of these about 33,6 percent were foreigners or German citizens of foreign origin. That made the infection risk for foreigners 5,2 times higher than for German citizens.

More than half of the infected persons came from countries of the former Soviet Republic.

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