Tuberculosis has made its way back into the news and our fears with reports that a man may spread the disease among fellow passengers on a recent flight he had taken. This discovery has led to panic and anger towards this man. TB is not like small pox or polio. It is still present in the world and skills nearly 2 million people each year. At the same time, it often is treatable and TB rates drop every year, making special cases like his more and more sensational to the public.

TB is an airborne disease that affects the lungs. It is spread through coughing and sneezing, just like the common cold. It is not spread through kissing, touching, sharing toothbrushes or food, or touching objects handled by an infected person. Once infected, sufferers develop sick and weak feelings, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. Once it infects the lungs, patients suffer from coughing, chest pain, and coughing up blood.

If detected early, TB can be treated easily with antibiotics, but some cases are labeled “multidrug-resistant” because it can withstand the two antibiotics that are most often used to treat it, isoniazid and rifampin. However, this does not happen often. Also, TB rates have been falling each year, reaching on all time low in the U.S. of 4.6 per 100,000 Americans last year. Still, it causes more deaths than any other infectious agent in the world.

In July 2004, an update of the Respiratory Protection for M. Tuberculosis was updated to protect employees who are treating those with tuberculosis as well as the patients themselves. It emphasizes training procedures, respirator fittings, and the extensive keeping of medical records. This is to ensure that TB patients are treated appropriately and comfortably to keep the death rates down. These measures may come in handy if the recent TB scare escalates into something bigger.

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