Monday, December 28, 2009

What goes around comes around

A highly drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis which the rest of the world has been fighting for years has finally made its way to the US. It's not surprising that the disease has mutated; it's been around for thousands of years, and certainly in that time has learned a few tricks about survival. But the current crisis is of our own making, as we've overused and abused the "miracle" drugs used to treat it, allowing a mutation and resurgence. Read the linked article; it has an excellent history of the disease and the current status of the battle to treat it.

In the spring of my freshman year of college, I received an urgent call from the student health center. They needed me to come in immediately; I trotted over the couple of blocks to see what was up.

They put me through a very thorough third degree, although I had almost no information for them. Apparently, somehow, from the basic health information provided to the school, they found out my mother had had TB. The HC flipped out a bit - and who could blame them? If I had been exposed, was sick without yet showing it, a virulent airborne disease could be making its way through ten thousand students.

I knew only basic information, which I relayed while they did the nasty scratch test. My mom had TB when she was an older teenager, and had been hospitalized (isolated in a ward with other TB patients to keep it from spreading) for somewhere between eleven and fifteen months before being declared cured and released. This was all seven or eight years before I was born.

A quick call to my mom (and a clear scratch test) set every one's mind at ease. The good scratch test (and a much more recent clear chest x-ray) indicate I'm also not a carrier; it's estimated that up to a third of the world's population may have latent cases, ten percent of which will turn active at some point.

The point of the story? Be careful to follow doctor and pharmacist instructions to the letter when taking antibiotics. If you have a constant, hacking cough, have it checked out sooner rather than later. As much as mankind would like to claim credit for eradicating certain diseases, the little bugs find ways to come back: don't take any chances.

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