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Why is Deadly Tuberculosis Making a ComeBack?

Updated on November 14, 2012
Early painting of 'consumptive' people being 'cleaned'.
Early painting of 'consumptive' people being 'cleaned'. | Source

The origins of tuberculosis

Although this contagious disease is making a comeback, where did it derive from originally?

According to, tuberculosis (TB), bacteria - were found in skeletal remains of humans from around 7000 BCE. It is still unknown whether TB originated in cattle - bovine TB - then spread to humans or if the bacteria has a single source that diversified. What is true, is that ever since people began to contract this disease, it has taken the lives of millions - and continues to do so today.

In more recent centuries the disease was popularly known as 'consumption'. The reason for this was due to the wasting away of the body of those unfortunate to contract the disease - it did seem as if TB was 'consuming' the body from the inside.

It was good news when a few decades ago TB was nearly eradicated. However, this deadly infection is making a steady comeback. Let's look more closely at what this disease does and why it is on the increase.

Areas of the body affected by tuberculosis

Tuberculosis can affect:
1. Lungs
2. Pleura - the lining covering the lungs
3. Kidneys & urinary tract
4. Bones
5. Meninges of the brain - this fatal condition usually affects children

Famous people who suffered from TB

Famous people who are believed to have died or suffered fromTB
1. King Tutankhamen
2. Sir Walter Scott
3. Ralph Waldo Emerson
4. Florence Nightingale
5. Edgar Allan Poe
6. Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte
7. Nelson Mandela
8. Eleanor Roosevelt
9. Tom Jones
10. Ringo Starr

An overview of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis. The infection is spread through droplets in the air after people have sneezed or coughed them out.

The most common area of the body affected by TB is the lungs. However, this disease can travel easily through the blood stream and infect other areas of the body such as the bones, nervous system and other areas.

When the TB bacteria infect the body, the immune system of a healthy person usually attacks quickly and in most cases the bacteria are killed. If the immune system can't kill the bacteria out right, the body's white cells will seal the TB bugs in a fibrous capsule. In this state the bacteria can do no further harm. If some bacteria manage to escape from one area, the same tactic will be used to seal them elsewhere in the body. For many people, the disease does not progress any further.

However, if the immune system is not able to function at optimum level - due to other health conditions, due to age, children etc - then the TB bacteria infection will rapidly move onto stage two of the disease also known as the active phase. This second level is where the bacteria begin to destroy the tissues of the body at the primary site of infection. The bacteria produce small tumours that eat into the tissues and vessels. When it is the lungs that are affected the familiar coughing up of blood is seen.

The first stage of the disease might be symptom free although some patients have reported general flu-like feelings. In the active stage of the disease there can be a number of symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Swollen glands/lymph nodes
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • When the lungs are affected there is usually at first a persistent dry cough. This then develops into a productive cough where fresh blood is often brought up from the lungs. There can also be chest pain and difficulty in breathing. This is the stage of the disease when it is at its most infective.

In many countries including the UK the BCG, (Bacille Calmette-Guerin), vaccine was given to children in particular. This had been a standard preventative treatment against TB for many years. However, studies revealed that some people who received the vaccine were only protected for a short period of time and others were not protected at all. In addition the UK NHS, state that although the BCG vaccine can protect some high risk groups against for example TB meningitis, it is not effective against all forms of TB.

In 2005 the decision was made to only give the BCG to selected high risk individuals. One of the reasons behind this decision, as stated by Paul Fine, Professor of Communicable Diseases in an article for the BMJ (British Medical Journal), is that despite routine vaccination, the numbers of TB infections being reported in England and Wales were at their highest since 1983. This is disturbing reading, not because the vaccine has been stopped, but that despite the inoculation of babies, children and high risk groups against TB, the numbers of infections were beginning to increase.

In addition, it has been reported by the World Health Organisation, (WHO), and world government's statistics, that at least 1/3 of the world's population is infected by latent TB. Tuberculosis would seem to be on the rise again.

X-ray showing congestion - white areas - in the lungs due to tuberculosis.
X-ray showing congestion - white areas - in the lungs due to tuberculosis. | Source

Why is TB so dangerous?

One of the main dangers of TB is its rapid method of transferring infection from one person to another making it very contagious. The bacteria travel through the air in droplets and are inhaled into the body. However, many people have what is called 'latent TB'. This is when the bacteria are in the body, but remain inactive. In this state, the person is not infectious and they cannot transmit TB to other people. Only when TB is in the active stage, does it have the potential to infect others.

However, even people with inactive TB require medical attention to prevent the bacteria being triggered at a later stage. In addition, you are only likely to catch TB if you are living with or working with someone in close proximity on a frequent basis. This is even more likely where people live in overcrowded and insanitary conditions.

Tuberculosis can affect many areas of the body
Tuberculosis can affect many areas of the body | Source

Do you think world governments should do more to curb the increase of TB by increasing funding for new forms of drugs?

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the bacteria that causes TB
Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the bacteria that causes TB | Source

Tuberculosis on the rise?

A few decades ago it was believed that Tuberculosis, along with a number of other deadly, infectious diseases had almost been eradicated. However, here in the 21st century. At the present time, most cases of TB are confined to poorer countries especially in Africa. Nevertheless, new cases are being reported daily from areas such as China and India.

We are not immune in more developed countries either. Locations such as the former Soviet Union and South Africa have witnessed significant increases in TB. In a UK Government report it states that there has been an increase of 5% of new cases of TB in the UK. However, the media have also levelled criticism at the UK Government after further figures showed that London was now the TB capital of Europe. Due to stringent health precautions other European countries have actually managed to reduce the TB infection numbers, but the UK Government is being accused of complacency.

In addition, the disturbing facts are that TB is evolving in a similar way to other superbugs that are building immunity to anti-biotics and other drugs. According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), TB is a worldwide pandemic and although most cases do arise in third world countries, there is a new form of TB called - MDR-TB, (multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), that is causing concern. One of the major contributory factors for soaring numbers of TB worldwide is due to HIV/Aids. These people have severely compromised immune systems that allow the TB bacteria to infect them. In turn these unfortunate people also pass on the disease to many others. In addition, the amount of people moving around our planet has increased significantly over the years. As a result, bacteria such as TB are also carried around with them.

On the positive side when TB is caught early enough and long term treatments are provided, then the recovery rate is still good. However, WHO report over 8.7 million new cases each year. In addition, there is a huge gap in the funding required to bring forward research and new drugs that could actually prove good enough to eradicate this disease once and for all. However, since the funding gap still stands at 1.4 billion dollars, there is a fine dividing line between getting rid of TB for good or the drug-resistant strains of the disease being allowed to flourish.

Will we win the battle? Only time will tell.


Submit a Comment

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi TurtleDog, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    I love the history of the West and the old characters like Doc Holiday! I didn't realise that Doc Holiday also had TB - I'll need to add him to the famous list! Many thanks again for stopping by and for the vote up - greatly appreciated!!

  • TurtleDog profile image


    6 years ago

    Great post and very well thought out. Weird fact, I watched the movie "Tomstone" recently. It's based on Wyatt Earp and his pal Doc Holiday had consumption (ie Tuberculosis). I had to look it up and found your post. Thanks for posting. Great job on the pics too. Great X ray shot. Voted up and awesome

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi BlossomSB, lovely to hear from you and glad that you found the hub interesting. The battle does indeed continue with TB and a few others! Our medical researchers are excellent people and with them I'm sure we have a very good chance of bringing this under control - but they need the support and funding to do so, so here's hoping it's forthcoming!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kashmir56, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub interesting. TB is such a horrible illness and especially for those who are most vulnerable in our world - the poor, children and those who already have a serious illness to fight off. Here's hoping that things will get better for them!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, hope you had a nice weekend!

    Glad that you found the hub interesting and informative and hopefully it will be of benefit to some people.

    Many thanks for the visit and the comment!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi catgypsy, lovely to hear from you. I couldn't agree more - it is very scary that TB (and a few others) are on the rise again.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MT! Lovely to hear from you - hope things are well with you and yours?

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub - and yes, I agree it is troubling and my hopes that everyone involved will get their act together to bring it under control.

  • BlossomSB profile image

    Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

    6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

    The battle continues. Let's hope that we win in the end. Thank you for a great hub on an important topic.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Very interesting and useful information . I did not hear that tuberculosis was on the rise again. Well done !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • Eiddwen profile image


    6 years ago from Wales

    So interesting and very well informed. I am sure that this hub will benefit so many readers.

    Thanks for sharing and enjoy your weekend.


  • catgypsy profile image


    6 years ago from the South

    It is scary that this is coming back. Very well done hub on the subject!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    6 years ago from Minnesota

    Thanks for writing about this resurgence of a deadly disease. It is very troubling to hear about this but hopefully this will be brought under control again. Great and useful information.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Graham, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    I agree, it's a very worrying trend and hopefully, as you rightly say, the people in the know will act appropriately and get this horrible disease under control!!

    Many thanks again Graham for your visit and for the vote up - greatly appreciated!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Graham, as always, a pleasure to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub - I agree, it is food for thought!!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi writer20, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub interesting. Here's hoping that we get our act together and stop this horrible disease from getting out of control once again.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Nettlemere, lovely to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the hub. That's very interesting about your comment on specialist hospitals. My Aunty Margaret was a nurse in one of the sanotoriums and told us how they would wheel the patients out onto the verandas to ensure they got fresh air as this was thought one way to get rid of the bacteria!

  • old albion profile image

    Graham Lee 

    6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

    Brilliant research. So well presented. A very worrying trend indeed. Let's hope the people who need to know, do know and take the necessary action quickly. Well done Seeker.

    Voted up.


  • old albion profile image

    Graham Lee 

    6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

    Hi Seeker. Greatly informative hub. Food for thought indeed.

    Voted up and all.


  • writer20 profile image

    Joyce Haragsim 

    6 years ago from Southern Nevada

    Very interesting, I have heard before that its coming back. You've had written a great hub.

    Voted up and useful, Joyce

  • Nettlemere profile image


    6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

    A good report on this disease which as you say looked to be no longer such a menace but is now undergoing a resurgence. Perhaps we'll see a return of specialist TB hospitals too.


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