Called “consumption” or the “White Death,” tuberculosis caused grave concern during the Victorian Era. In the 1800s and up until early last century, tuberculosis was a catastrophic problem for the public’s health in England and France, most notably causing one in four deaths in England around 1815. Even still, come 1915, it was causing one in six deaths in France. Spread through the air, tuberculosis infected people, causing them to have a ghostly white hue.
Modern medicine has made many strides in treatment and prevention of the condition, and most westernized countries have tuberculosis well under control. But in what’s being billed as an “alarming” piece of news, tuberculosis — which was nearly eradicated in Britain a few decades ago — is on the rise in the U.K. Last year in Britain, more than 8,000 people were infected. Overall, the rate jumped 10% from the year before — the biggest jump since 1999.
“These figures are alarming and the situation is now very urgent,” an expert on a tuberculosis committee and president of the British Lung Foundation told Reuters. “This 19th century disease is a rapidly increasing threat in 21st century Britain.”
So what’s keeping this 19th Century disease around despite all the advances of modern medicine? Certain strains of the disease are becoming resistant to drugs. The spread of AIDS, because the underlying infection makes people susceptible to tuberculosis, is also being fingered as a possible factor.
The biggest threat for people living in westernized countries is travel. Experts believe that the rise in tuberculosis is largely attributable to the rise in air travel between continents. The disease thrives in poor urban areas — just as it did hundreds of years ago — that are densely packed with people. These areas are populous in many poverty-stricken countries, but they exist in many rich countries as well.
In any event, our interconnected world brings certain risks to our doorstep. If Britain is experiencing a rise in tuberculosis, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that for North America it could one day pose a greater problem than it does currently. As a matter of fact, Britain officials are saying that countries must work together to halt its spread.
The disease is a life-threatening infection that strikes your lungs: the airborne bacteria settle there. The World Health Organization predicts the current numbers, two million deaths a year worldwide, will rise in the next couple of decades. An incredible two billion are infected with tuberculosis at this very moment. If the “active” form of the disease is left untreated, it can be fatal. With proper care, though, it can be treated; however, for the world’s poor people that is often not a possibility.
If you have a weakened immune system, it’s a good idea to get checked for tuberculosis every six months or so. Know that preventive measures are in place to meet the threat head on. If we ignore the threat, it could have grave consequences for all of us.