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23 March 2017

Each year, on 24th March, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls on countries and partners to unite to end tuberculosis. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness about the burden of tuberculosis worldwide as well the progress made towards its cure.

What is tuberculosiS?

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria that most often affect the lungs. It is spread from person to person through the air, and a person only needs to inhale a few of these germs to become infected.

  • Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
  • In 2015, 10,4 million people fell ill with TB and 1,8 million died from the disease.
  • Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Six countries account for 60% of the total, with India leading the count, followed by Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.
  • An estimated 49 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and treatment between 2000 and 2015.
  • The WHO aims to end the TB epidemic by 2030.

Who is most at risk?

Tuberculosis mostly affects young adults, in their most productive years. However, all age groups are at risk. Over 95% of cases and deaths are in developing countries. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means people have been infected with TB bacteria, but are not yet ill with the disease, nor can they transmit the disease. These individuals have a 10% risk within their lifetime of falling ill with TB.

While there is a vaccine for the tuberculosis disease, it is usually only given to babies and children in countries where TB is common and does not always protect individuals from getting TB.

Risk Factors

Once a person is infected with the TB bacteria, the chance of developing TB disease is higher if the person:

  • Has an HIV infection
  • Has been recently infected with the TB bacteria (in the last two years)
  • Has other health problems
  • Abuses alcohol or uses illegal drugs
  • Was not treated for TB infection in the past

Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Common symptoms of active lung TB are cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats.

There are two kinds of tests that are used to detect TB bacteria in the body: the TB skin test and the TB blood tests.

TB is generally treated with a combination of four antibiotics. It's important to take the medicine for at least 6 months. Almost all people are cured if they take their medicine exactly as their doctors prescribe. If tests still show an active TB infection after 6 months, then treatment continues for another 2 or 3 months. If the TB bacteria are resistant to several antibiotics, treatment may be needed for a year or longer.

Find out more on the World Health Organization's website.

World Health Organization (2016). Tuberculosis Fact Sheet. Retrieved on 19 December 2016.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Tuberculosis. Retrieved on 19 December 2016.
World Health Organization (2016). Chronic Respiratory Diseases. Retrieved on 19 December 2016.