World Tuberculosis Day, 2005


Thursday is World Tuberculosis Day. It is recognized on March twenty-fourth each year to raise awareness about the international health threat of tuberculosis.

Health officials from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organize the event each year. They say it is a valuable chance to educate the public about TB and how it can be stopped. TB is caused by a mycobacterium. The disease spreads easily through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. But people infected with the disease will not necessarily become sick. The organism can live in the body for years before becoming active.

In the late eighteen hundreds, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. On March twenty-fourth, eighteen eighty-two, Robert Koch announced the discovery of the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis. At the time, it was the most important step towards controlling and ending this deadly disease.

One hundred years later, the World Health Organization and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease organized the first World TB Day. The event was designed to educate the public about the international health and economic effects of the disease, especially in developing countries.

Today, tuberculosis infects at least eight million people each year. It also is the second leading cause of death around the world. The disease kills two million to three million people each year. Only Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome kills more people. Eleven million people are infected with both tuberculosis and the virus that causes AIDS.

A combination of medicines is used to treat tuberculosis. But experts say the drug treatment is no longer effective against the disease in many parts of the world. This is because the mycobacterium has developed defenses against it. Doctors say the resistance resulted from patients failing to follow directions for taking the medicines.

Researchers recently discovered a new drug that may help the fight against tuberculosis. The substance is called R-two-zero-seven-nine-one-zero. Scientists have just begun to test the experimental drug in people.

Health officials say with enough efforts and resources, TB can be cured and controlled.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Gwen Outen.