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HEALTH REPORT - Tuberculosis - 2003-05-13

Broadcast: May 14, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

One-third of all the people in the world are infected with tuberculosis, or TB, a disease caused by bacteria in the lungs. Each year, eight-million infected people become sick with the disease. Someone dies of TB every fifteen seconds -- more than two-million deaths a year. But it does not have to be this way.

Let us imagine a young mother in a poor community in India. She has been coughing a lot during the past two weeks. Sometimes she coughs up blood, and it hurts when she coughs. But she has three small children and a husband to care for. She has all the signs of tuberculosis. Yet she believes she cannot take time to see a doctor. So she just keeps on coughing.

Every time she coughs, though, the germs spread through the air. Her children, her husband and other people breathe that air. They too may become infected. Sometimes the bacteria begin to grow right away, and a newly infected person develops active tuberculosis.

This happens mostly in people whose bodies are not strong enough to fight disease. These include young children, old people and people already sick with other diseases. Even in strong and healthy people, the bacteria stay in the body and can become active later.

STOP TB is an international project to fight this ancient disease. One goal is to expand the use of the most successful treatment method known. The method is called DOTS, for Directly Observed Therapy, Short-course.

This means people who have TB see a health care worker every day, or several times a week, to receive their medicine. Health officials say ten million patients around the world have been cured by DOTS. In India alone, fifty-thousand people start DOTS every month.

There are skin tests to tell if a person is infected with TB. Doctors urge people to go for treatment right away if they have had a cough for more than two weeks, if they sometimes cough up blood, and if their chest hurts when they cough.

Up to six months of treatment may be needed. It is important to kill all the TB bacteria in a person’s body. Bacteria that survive can develop resistance to drugs -- a growing problem with bacterial infections in general. So this is why doctors want to make sure people take all their medicine.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Karen Leggett.