It’s time to talk about tuberculosis, commonly known as TB. The bacterial infection was once called ‘the romantic disease’ due to its association with the deaths of artists, musicians, authors, poets and playwrights; John Keats, the Brontë sisters, Frederic Chopin, George Orwell and Anton Chekhov were all killed by TB.
A TB infection won’t necessarily make you ill. Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacteria that cause TB) can lie dormant in your body for years, kept at bay by your immune system. If this is the case, you will not have symptoms or be able to infect other people – this is known as latent TB. However, it can progress to active TB (also called TB disease) at a later date, especially if your immune system is weakened.
TB affects the most vulnerable people in society and continues to be resistant to control measures. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, TB was the leading cause of death due to infectious disease in the world.
While the attention of those in health policy circles has understandably shifted towards COVID-19 in the past two years, and towards non-communicable diseases in the long term, it’s vital that we don’t neglect the challenges posed by TB.