NHS vs TB: winning the war against the world’s oldest killer

Disaster Man
TB might be deadly, but we can still win

Bad things don’t get much badder.

So bad that London is the recognised TB capital of Europe – the second most common cause of death world-wide after HIV/AIDS.

Consumption it used to be called. The wasting disease of the poor in Dickensian times.

But TB’s been around a hell of a lot longer than that.

Curse of the ancients

It tops the Who’s Who of killer diseases back to biblical times and beyond: tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, cholera, smallpox, rabies, malaria, pneumonia, influenza, measles and the Black Plague.

In fact tubercular decay has been found in the spines of Egyptian mummies from 3000 BC.

It’s the longest-running bacteria war in the history of humanity.

But it’s one we can win in nearly every case. Even for those so down on their luck the only way forward seems like feet-first.

The anti-TB hit team

You may not have heard of Find&Treat – another team of NHS heroes who work nationwide, fighting TB for those who need it most – homeless people, drug abusers, alcoholics, helpless migrants and ex-cons.

No, they’re not a Halloween outfit. They’re dedicated professionals – out there with mobile X-ray units day and night to locate the 10,000 sufferers every year with confirmed TB.

It’s no surprise it’s the disease of the poor.

We all of us interact with bacteria everyday – some good, some bad – a miraculous balance held in check by our immune systems.

But things work against you when you’re a have-not.

Not enough food, not enough liquids, no defence against the cold, zero chance to keep yourself clean.

Any one of those can throw the body out of balance.

Next thing, the cough that spells the end – unspeakable stuff in your spit, very often blood.

Except it’s fixable with drugs and proper care.

TB can be beaten (Tweet this)

Streptomycin in combination with others to get round antibiotic resistance – bedaquiline and delamanid and many others – a vital defence against MDR-TB (multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis).

And if that doesn’t work, there’s surgery – removing fluid-filled bullae from the lungs – simultaneously reducing the number of bacteria and increasing drug-exposure to the remainder. Take that, you murderous scum.

But getting well is not easy – especially if you’re sleeping rough and living on the streets.

Which is where the Peers come in – recovered TB patients who know how hard it is to find support. So they give it themselves in advice and encouragement, persuading the homeless to get checked and receive treatment.

Been there, done that, got better.

Nasty though, TB. Highly contagious.

Remember “cough and sneezes spread diseases” – the 1942 slogan to counter people pulling sickies?

It’s airborne and deadly, easily picked up by anyone, particularly in cities – crowded places where people live and breathe on top of each other.

Except that’s preventable too.

TB prevention

As a bacteria, TB can be clobbered by hydrogen peroxide spray. Lingering germs in the air are destroyed as they swirl around – oxidised to shreds so their individual cells rip apart.

You can’t stop a sneeze passing the bacteria on, but you can sterilise the room in which a sufferer has been – all viruses and bacteria destroyed with 99.9999% efficiency.

TB capital of Europe?

London has faced worse things – and is still winning.

Let those folk who bad-mouth the NHS think on that – next time they start coughing.

Originally posted on 15 August 2018 @ 12:17 pm