Thursday, August 13, 2009



Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria is famous for attacking the lungs, remember how Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer) kept wheezing those bloody coughs into his handkerchief in the cowboy classic Tombstone? While the lungs are a usual target, Mycobacterium tuberculosis can also invade the brain, spine, and kidneys.

Without proper treatment the disease can be fatal which is why it used to be the leading cause of death in the United States. Today, according to the WHO, someone in the world is newly infected with TB bacilli every second. Overall, one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with the TB bacillus. The WHO explains, “people infected with TB bacilli will not necessarily become sick with the disease.

The immune system ‘walls off’ the TB bacilli which, protected by a thick waxy coat, can lie dormant for years. When someone’s immune system is weakened, the chances of becoming sick are greater which is why it is so dangerous to patients infected with HIV/Aids. The “White Death” has claimed untold lives in its long history, easily killing many millions of victims.


According to the CDC, “Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Approximately one in 20 infected persons has severe disease characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. In these persons, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.”

Because of modern American sanitation and sewage infrastructures, the risk for contamination in the United States is low, but travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa and India should be aware of the risks presented by the disease. Since cholera kills through severe dehydration, getting more and more people access to clean drinking water will continue to decrease incidents of infection.

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