Photo: El Salvador
A little girl plays while a nurse checks her health in the Children's Hospital Bloom in El Salvador. She is sick with tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease that typically attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body.
In the Americas, currently an estimated 270,000 people—including 44,000 children—become sick with the disease each year, and 23,000 of those die from TB. But these numbers reflect major progress in recent decades. Since 1990, TB cases have declined by 60 percent in the region, and TB deaths have declined by two-thirds.
TB prevention and control can be improved through strategies that emphasize multisectoral action in areas including education, access to health services, improved housing and general living conditions and the provision of sanitation services in marginal areas. The disease could be eliminated from the region if countries intensify their efforts and if all of society joins in the fight.
TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium that most often affects the lungs. About one in three people worldwide has latent TB, meaning they are infected but have no active symptoms of the disease and cannot transmit it.
TB is spread through the air when people with active lung infection cough, sneeze or spit. The lifetime risk of someone infected becoming ill is 10 percent. However, people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco, have a much higher risk of falling ill. Symptoms of pulmonary TB include a cough that lasts for more than 2-3 weeks, weight loss, fever, night sweats, loss of appetite and coughing up blood. The disease is curable, but can be fatal if left untreated. Treatment usually takes six months and costs as little as US$100 in many developing countries.