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What We Know About Coronavirus Can Keep You From Getting TB

Like any infectious disease, eradicating tuberculosis (TB) starts with the public taking necessary hygienic measures, says American Lung Association chief medical officer Dr. Albert Rizzo.

Dr. Albert Rizzo

Chief Medical Officer, American Lung Association

Amidst the coronavirus emergency, what should the public know about tuberculosis and other infectious diseases? 

Infectious diseases remain among the leading causes of death worldwide. Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death due to an infection worldwide, despite being a preventable and curable disease.

TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious killer. Each day, over 4,000 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. Global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 58 million lives since 2000. 

To accelerate the TB response in countries to reach targets, heads of state came together and made strong commitments to end TB at the first-ever UN High Level Meeting in September 2018.

In 2017, 10 million people, including 1 million children, became ill with TB and 1.6 million people with TB died, making it the leading infectious cause of death in the world. Globally, approximately 1.7 billion people, including 13 million people in the United States, are living with asymptomatic MTB infection, known as latent TB; they have a lifetime 5 to 10 percent chance of developing active disease.

As stated by the NAID in its strategy to develop the research to help eradicate TB, there need to be efforts to halt the spread of TB domestically and globally in order to reduce TB-related morbidity and mortality. 

The total global economic burden associated with TB from 2000 to 2015 was an estimated $617 billion. The societal benefit of implementing TB control and prevention measures for the United States from 1995 to 2014 was valued at $14.5 billion. 

To address the global health emergency TB represents, the World Health Organization (WHO) End TB Strategy sets ambitious goals for 2035 to reduce TB deaths by 95 percent and to reduce TB disease incidence by 90 percent (relative to 2015 levels).

What steps can people take to protect themselves against Tuberculosis? 

TB is a serious bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs and respiratory system, though it can invade any organ. It’s a contagious infection that can be spread in the water droplets of a cough or sneeze.

The first step in any effort to prevent and/or protect from an infectious disease is to raise awareness of the existence of the infection in the particular community. Some of those communities may be high-risk based on socio-economic and geographic reasons.

Since TB is a respiratory infection, the way to prevent infection is to follow the tried and true recommendations that should be followed for any respiratory infection that is transmitted by aerosol or droplets from cough or sneeze: 

  • Avoid being around known sick individuals.
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, especially after contacting surfaces or other individuals (i.e., handshaking).
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, eyes, or face in general with unwashed hands.

What needs to happen for Tuberculosis to be eradicated completely? 

The specifics of the 2018 NAID strategy to help eradicate TB as planned by the WHO END TB program includes the below key aspects:

Improve fundamental knowledge of TB specifically around how the organism interacts with humans so we can better understand what drives the pathogenesis, transmission, and epidemiology of the TB organism.  This includes a better understanding of how our immune system succeeds or fails in responding to the infection.

Advance research to improve the diagnosis of TB, including research to identify biomarkers (blood, sputum, etc.) for different forms of TB that can facilitate the development of accurate, rapid, and easily implementable diagnostic and prognostic tests for use in all populations.

Accelerate research to improve TB prevention by supporting science to design, develop, and evaluate preventive vaccines and chemoprevention, and to identify markers of protective immunity that can predict vaccine efficacy.

Support research to improve treatment for all forms of TB in all populations and age groups, including research to develop less toxic regimens of shorter duration for safe and effective treatment, host-directed therapies, and therapeutic vaccines.

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