Sunny evening, 6 June 2018

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

World Tuberculosis Day

Did you know it's World TB Day today? The BBC has put up a picture gallery with graphic images associated with that disease. I'll just jot down a few private observations on that illness.

TB is an old adversary of humankind, and has crept into everyday vocabulary. It is referred to as consumption in English, a euphemism of the sort commonly attributed to serious illnesses. In days gone by, within living memory, TB sufferers were taken into a sanatorium with plenty of fresh air - even if that was fresh air from outside at a temperature of minus a lot. In the 1950s, people were operated upon, with entire lung lobes removed. I personally know someone who had that done. It cured them - or did it? The antibiotics used to combat TB are heavy duty stuff, and just today the development was announced of a new compound.

TB has made a come-back in the last decade or two, on the back of AIDS. The latter disease destroys the immune system, which opens the floodgates to the TB.

Chemically speaking, the tuberculosis bacillus has some unusual fatty acids in its cellwall - consisting of a chain of 80 carbon atoms. Those of you familiar with bio-chemistry will recognise the extra-ordinary nature of such a compound. It means that the bacillus is well-nigh impregnable to antibiotics, which need to get into the cell of the TB bug to kill it.

Another problem is that the treatment course of TB is 6 months. Few people manage to finish a course, because their symptoms tend to disappear after a couple of days or weeks. Bearing in mind the unpleasant side-effects of some of the drugs, it is even less of an incentive to continue to take pills that turn your urine an alarming hue of pink, for instance.

If you haven't been put off yet, I'd like to highlight another aspect of tuberculosis: transmission through domestic and wild animals. Bovine TB is a major problem in farming, with some farmers blaming wild animals (like badgers) for transmission. So, even if we manage to eradicate TB in people, it might stage a come-back via the animal kingdom. Bearing in mind that the AIDS message seems to have dropped out of people's considerations when having casual sex, I don't expect the eradication of TB to happen very shortly.

1 comment:

  1. If only our cells were able to develop similar unusual fatty acids to repel any or all foreign bugs invasion. Maybe one day gene therapy might introduce this missing link that these TB cells have as normal.
    Just a naive thought as I never did much science at school in the 50's and 60's.
    I so wish that AIDS could be cured. Meanwhile it is up to the public to keep a higher profile of the dangers to themselves.
    I feel for those in Africa and elsewhere who sadly don't have the backup that we Westerners have.