Tuberculosis – The White Plague

Article written by :drSinchan
Dr. Sinchan Bhattacharyya
Chief Executive – Medical Admin
Peerless Hospital

We have already discussed about a severe respiratory tract & lung infection – pneumonia caused by a bacterium in a previously published article. Here we will discuss about another severe lung infection “Tuberculosis”, which is also caused by a bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In the year 1882, a Prussian physician Robert Koch first identified the bacterium through a new staining method. He had isolated & identified the bacterium in the sputum of a tuberculosis patient, revealing the causal agent of the disease for the first time.

Even though the identification of this particular infection occurred in the late 19th century, but it was recently established that this bacterium is said to have existed since 9000 years from now. The extracts from the biological remains proved its existence. It is also believed that this particular infection had spread to humans in different parts of the world through trade routes. This is also an airborne contagious disease which is caused through droplet transmission from one person to another.

The important fact about this disease is, it can remain inactive/dormant in a person. One can unconsciously or unknowingly acquire the bacteria of tuberculosis yet not even know about it. The TB bacteria is also seen to infect other organs like kidneys, lymph nodes, bones, joints etc. But the disease commonly occurs in the lungs. The symptoms of the disease include – coughing (which persists for more than 3 weeks with green, yellow or bloody sputum), weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills, chest pain, shortness of breath and loss of appetite. This disease had become an epidemic in the 18th & 19th century where most of the urban population were seen to get infected. The age group was between 15 to 34 years and 80% of those who developed TB, died. Due to a high death rate in the end of the 19th century, it was found necessary to initiate the work for development of a vaccine.

The vaccine was developed over a period of 13 years, from 1908 to 1921 by two French bacteriologists Albert Calmettee and Camille Guerin. It was named Bacillus Calmettee-Guerin (BCG) by the scholars and is still being administered on children across the world to prevent the occurrence of the disease. The vaccine produces an immune response which protects infants and children from developing the severe form of tuberculosis.

As per World Health organisation, TB is the world’s leading infectious disease which causes death. Hence vaccinating infants and children can prevent numerous cases which might occur in the future and will help to contain the death rate of the world’s leading infectious disease.

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