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Tuberculosis: The Other Pandemic


René F. Najera, DrPH

March 24, 2020

As you're reading this, there are an estimated 1.8 billion people around the world infected with tuberculosis. If you're in the United States or in any of the other developed countries, chances are that tuberculosis is not something you worry about. It might be something you hear about in the news when there is a confirmed case and people need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent a local epidemic. But, for many people in the most disadvantaged places in the world, tuberculosis is an aspect of their daily lives.

March 24 is World TB Day, a day when public health officials and others try to remind the world that tuberculosis is a modern plague that kills 1.5 million people a year and sickens 10 million others. The rest of the infected have what is called a latent infection, an infection with no symptoms but one that can reactivate at any moment. About 13 million people in the United States have a latent infection.

Those who are most affected are the very poor, those with HIV/AIDS, and those living in places where the disease is endemic (always present) and the air quality is bad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together a series of videos of tuberculosis survivors talking about how the disease affected them.

And here is another video from CDC on what you need to know about tuberculosis:

Finally, here are two physician experts on tuberculosis speaking about the interaction between the COVID-19 pandemic and tuberculosis.

Just like COVID-19, tuberculosis is going to require a worldwide public health effort without precedent to bring under control and defeat.


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