Tuberculosis – why an ancient disease is a modern day problem

Tuberculosis (TB) has been infecting humans for many centuries and, prior to the discovery of the bacteria responsible for the disease, it was known by many different names including phthisis, consumption and the White Plague. However despite our familiarity with TB, it continues to cause high morbidity and mortality.

Although it can infect any part of the body, the Mycobacterium tuberculosis infecting the lungs or throat is the infectious form, as it’s transmitted through cough droplets from an infected patient.

While TB was never completely eradicated, there was nevertheless a significant drop in cases and mortality rates, thanks to the development of the BCG vaccine (1921) and new anti-tubercular drugs in the 1950’s.

But the disease re-emerged. Prevalence increased to such a worrying level that the WHO declared it a global health emergency in 1993 and subsequently developed the End TB Strategy, with the aim to end the global TB epidemic by 2035.

While progress has been made in reducing TB-related mortality, it nevertheless ranks as one of the most deadly infectious diseases, and particularly so in HIV/AIDS patients. Management and treatment is fraught with problems around controlling transmission especially in times of increased global travel and overcrowding in some urban settings, increased drug resistance, limited diagnostic tools and lack of efficacious vaccines. At the same time, expertise in low incidence settings much also be retained.

World TB Day 2016

To raise awareness, World TB Day is held on 24th March every year, which in itself is to commemorate the date in 1882 when Robert Koch communicated his findings on Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The theme this year is Unite to End TB.

To acknowledge World TB Day 2016, BMC Medicine and BMC Infectious Diseases have launched an article collection guest edited by Ibrahim Abubakar, Helen Fletcher, Marc Lipman and Tim McHugh. The guest editors for the collection, along with Patrick Phillips, discuss the current challenges with managing and treating TB in this video


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