Animals may be the cause of a massive TB outbreak
The World Health Organisation has recognised South Africa as one of the countries with the highest burden of TB. According to the WHO’s statistics about 1% of the population of about 50 million people develop TB each year.
It has recently been discovered that animal TB (zoonotic TB) poses a greater threat to human health than anyone previously imagined. Global experts have called on governments to act against the threat of animal TB.
Impact on health
According to the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, zoonotic TB is caused by Mycobacterium bovis and poses a unique risk to public health, food supplies and to agricultural sectors of global economies.
TB, as we know it, is airborne and is passed on from person to person. Zoonotic TB, however, originates from animals and then spreads to food and then to people. It’s usually found in unpasteurised milk and cheese. Humans can also contract it from directly interacting with an animal that has zoonotic TB. This is common in cases involving domestic livestock.
The World Health Organisation predicts that the disease could affect over a million people during the next decade. While the numbers look frightening, very little support has been placed behind curbing this threat due to a lack of data. People with zoonotic TB require specialised care but most of the time the patients aren’t even adequately diagnosed.
Impact on the economy
Most low-and middle-income countries rely heavily on the agricultural industry to generate income. Livestock infected with the disease are usually slaughtered which can ultimately lead to massive financial losses to the agricultural sectors and economy.
The Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s biggest attractions for international tourists. Stellenbosch University researchers revealed that traces of zoonotic TB has been found in a range of animals in the Kruger National park earlier this year. These animals include lions, cheetahs, rhinos and wild dogs. The university has developed a test to make diagnosing wild life easier so that they can be isolated and treated as soon as possible.
Dr Francisco Olea-Popelka, Assistant Professor at Colorado State University: “Not all TB is the same, and the evidence points to zoonotic TB being far more common than previously recognised. We are calling for a coordinated response that addresses human, animal and agricultural concerns at a scale proportionate to the challenge.” – The Union, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
The 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health will take place in Liverpool, England between 26 and 29 October 2016. Delegates from over 125 countries will convene to discuss challenges especially those faced by the low- and middle-income countries. They will address critical issues in public health but more importantly, the problem of resistance to TB drugs.
Shocking facts published by the World Health Organisation:
TB killed an estimated 1.5 million people in 2014
Approximately 9 million people contract tuberculosis annually
TB causes more deaths annually worldwide than HIV
In 2014 there were an estimated 1.0million cases of TB in children and 140 000 deaths
In 2012, over 10 million children were orphaned as a result of their parents’ death from TB
Statistics: World Health Organisation
TB is a curable and treatable disease.