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Preventing the spread of TB

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

Wednesday, March 24, is World TB Day. This is a commemoration of the date 128 years ago (in 1882) when Robert Koch, a German doctor and Nobel Prize winner, announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB.

The vast majority of cases of TB are caught when a person with TB of the lungs coughs, sneezes or spits and another person inhales the germs. The same methods used for reducing the spread of the common cold or the flu can help to reduce the spread of TB germs.

Parents and teachers must train young persons to practice covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. In order to protect one another from germs that cause lung disease, we must never spit in public places. Handkerchiefs and tissues must either be disinfected or thrown away safely. We must wash hands frequently.

Leading causes of death

The World Health Organization estimates that one in every three persons in the world is infected with M. tuberculosis (a total of about two billion persons). Although much progress has been made in treating TB and a large number of persons have recovered from the disease, TB remains one of the leading causes of death from infectious diseases globally. Today, TB is still not under control. Cases of the disease occur all over the world. The largest number of cases is reported from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

The vast majority of TB deaths are in the developing world and more than half of all deaths occur in Asia. The Caribbean is not spared, with small numbers of cases reported from almost every country in the region, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic having the heaviest burden.

According to Dr Nils Billo, Executive Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, "It's critical not to underestimate TB." Dr Billo recently warned, "With the increase in multidrug-resistant TB to more than 500,000 cases last year [2009], the potential for TB to become a public health emergency is very real."

The World Health Organization Global TB Report 2009 revealed that in 2007, TB was the most common cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS. The same report states that HIV-positive people are about 20-40 times more likely to develop TB than persons who are not infected with HIV, living in the same country.

The association between TB and HIV is of some concern in Jamaica, with a few patients having been discovered to have both diseases. A larger proportion of cases of HIV/TB co-infection are reported from Haiti and the Dominican Republic than from Jamaica.

Year of the Lung

This year's World TB Day is also a highlight of the 2010 Year of the Lung. The Year of the Lung is being sponsored by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) to build awareness of the essential role the lungs play in health and the toll taken by lung diseases such as pneumonia, asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, as well as tuberculosis.

Members of the Jamaican public are encouraged to learn more about TB and to join with health professionals in the important worldwide 'Stop TB' campaign. Additional information can be found on the following websites: World TB Day:; The Union:; and Year of the Lung:

I am, etc.,

Brendan Bain, DM,


Honorary Consultant

University Hospital of the West